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Biblical Models Of Christian Leadership, Part 1 - The Shepherd Model

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The Shepherd Model Of Christian Leadership

Generally, I think it is true to say that the biblical model of Christian leadership is embraced in two terms – (1) shepherd; and (2) servant. In this article we will examine the “shepherd-leader” model, which seems to be the predominant biblical model of church leadership.

This paradigm is all-embracing in that it represents all aspects of leadership:

a) interpersonal relationships (i.e. sacrifice, care, intimacy, knowledge of those you lead, companionship)

b) decision-making

c) forward-planning

d) disciplining

e) teaching / training

f) support

g) provision

h) protection

A. The Principle Of Shepherd Leadership

1. Shepherds In The Old Testament

God considered prophets, priests, and kings as “shepherds”. Spiritual, political, and military leaders who were considered shepherds were Moses and David. David’s experience as an actual shepherd of sheep is transferred over to his role as a metaphorical shepherd of God’s people. As the shepherd of God’s people, David’s role was: (1) king (ruler); (2) guide; (3) protector; (4) provider.

Shepherds of God’s people were strong leaders – not passive or weak. For example, Nehemiah was just as much a shepherd as Ezra even though their roles were distinct (Ezra was a preacher; Nehemiah was a builder). Nehemiah led the people, cared for them, nourished them spiritually just as much as Ezra.

Shepherds in the O.T. led the people in all areas of life – commerce, education, foreign affairs, and spiritual life. It was holistic and multidimensional.

In the O.T. we find many prophetic references to Jesus as the good Shepherd:

  1. Ps. 23, 79:13, 80:1, 95:7. Jesus is the shepherd of Israel and of individual believers who are his sheep.
  2. Isa. 40:11. Jehovah is the good shepherd.
  3. Ezek. 34:23; Jer. 23:5. David’s greater Son will be the shepherd of the reunited remnant.
  4. Jer. 3:4; 23:3; Amos 3:2; 5:15; Mic. 2:12; 5:3,7,8; 7:18-20; Hab. 2:4; Zeph. 3:12, 13; Hag. 1:12, 14; Zech. 8:6,12; 13:8,9. Jesus, the good Shepherd, will separate the true Israel from the national Israel and lead his own out of “the fold”.

2. Shepherds In The New Testament

Obviously, in the context of church leadership “shepherding” refers to leading God’s people.

Shepherds in the N.T. are called “pastors” (Eph. 4:11) – i.e. one who feeds, protects, leads, cares and tends his sheep. The term “pastor” is used synonymously in the N.T. with the terms “elder” and “bishop / overseer” (e.g. Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2).

Elders (πρεσβυτερος) are the men who are responsible for the overall care of the church (Acts 14:23). This is a Jewish term carried over from the synagogue and, therefore, readily understood by the Jewish believers. It connotes experience, wisdom, maturity, counsel, knowledge, instruction – those characteristics associated with “age” (hence, “elder”).

Their moral and spiritual character and qualifications are outlined in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Tit. 1:5-9. Their importance is evident in 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-3.

Bishop (επισκοπος) is the function of elders to give oversight and leadership to the church ( 1Tim. 3:1). The term “bishop” is synonymous with overseer. This is a Gentile term carried over from commercial usage, and, therefore, readily understood by the Gentile believers. It connotes management, accountability, supervision.

Pastor (ποιμεν) is the function of elders who shepherd the church, feeding the flock by teaching the Word, protecting the church from various enemies both from inside and outside the church (1 Pet. 5:1; Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11), and caring for the flock in general. In our culture today we make more of a sharp distinction between “pastor” and “elder” than the N.T. does (although Eph. 4:11 seems to identify pastors separately).

B. The Paradigm Of Shepherd Leadership

Some Biblical Examples

Yahweh is spoken of as the shepherd of Israel (Isa. 40:11). Indeed, probably the most loved verses of Scripture begin, “The LORD is my Shepherd...”.

Jesus was a shepherd. Jesus is spoken of as the good shepherd (Jn. 10); the great shepherd (Heb. 13:20); and the chief shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4) – i.e. the Shepherd of shepherds (the Shepherd of pastors).

Jesus modelled and taught shepherding as his leadership style. He said, “I am the good Shepherd, the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep ... I am the good shepherd and I know my sheep and am known by my own ... My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me” (cf. Jn. 10:11, 14, 27). He saw the people as sheep “without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). He sent his disciples to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6). In addition to these sheep (Jews), he had “other sheep” (Gentiles) “who are not of this fold (i.e. Jewish fold); them also I must bring, and they will hear my voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (Jn. 10:16). He acted toward people as a shepherd acts toward his sheep:

  • Caring – “When he saw the multitude, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36)
  • Feeding (e.g. Mk. 6:30-44; 8:1-10)
  • Healing and nursing
  • Teaching and training
  • Protecting
  • Leading

In the shepherd’s leadership there is intimacy, relationship, security, sacrifice, warmth, tenderness. That’s why Jesus invites those to come to him who “labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29).

Jacob, Moses, and David (cf. Ps. 78:70-72; 2 Sam. 5:2) were all shepherds by profession and by calling as leaders of God's people.

Ezekiel goes to great lengths to condemn the “false” (selfish) shepherds in Ezek. 34:1-16 (cf. also Zech. 11:4-14).1 Here’s what Ezekiel says about them and to them:

1. The characteristic of false shepherds (vv. 2-4):

a) They feed themselves (2) and horde riches instead of feeding the sheep. A shepherd’s responsibility is to feed the flock. That is your first and foremost responsibility – not feeding yourself.

What does it mean to feed yourself? It means to look out for yourself first; to make sure your needs are met first; to “eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock” (3).

b) They do not provide pastoral care (4). The weak sheep are not strengthened. The sick sheep are not healed, nursed. The broken sheep are not bound up. The offended sheep are not brought back but “driven away”. The lost sheep are not searched for until they are found.

c) They “rule” over the sheep oppressively (4). They lead with “force” (like task masters; lording it over the flock) and with “cruelty” (like tyrants).

2. The consequences of this false leadership (vv. 5-8)

1. The sheep are scattered. Why? Because they have no shepherd. False shepherds are not shepherds at all. Rather than gather together, they scatter and divide

2. The sheep are preyed upon by wild beasts, attacked and devoured. When sheep are scattered and left alone w/o a shepherd, they can’t discern between friend and foe and they can’t defend themselves.

3. The sheep wander in the mountains and every high place, over the whole face of the earth, because no one is looking out for them, searching for them, or caring for them.

3. God’s indictment against false shepherds (vv. 9-16)

1. He is “against” such shepherds

2. He will “require his flock at their hand” – hold them responsible for their irresponsibility and self-centredness

3. The shepherds will lose their positions – “I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep”.

4. The shepherds will lose what they had gained – “They shall feed themselves no more”.

5. God will deliver his flock from them – “I will deliver my flock from their mouths that they may no longer be food for them” (10). False shepherds actually feed on the sheep. But God will remove the sheep from them. He will search for his sheep himself and gather them back from where they have been scattered, and feed them in good pasture (11-16). The implication is that the false shepherds will starve, lose their livelihood and God himself will be the true shepherd of Israel.


The condemnation of Ezek. 34 is directed against the false rulers. They didn’t strengthen the weak “sheep” nor heal the sick nor seek out the lost. Instead of gentleness and love they lead with force and cruelty (4). Instead of gathering sheep together they scattered them (5).

In contrast, God is the true shepherd of Israel (11). He will seek them out, gather them together, feed them and protect them in the fold, and give them rest (11-16ff).

Paul was a shepherd, not by profession and experience, but by practice among God’s people. It was this shepherd style of leadership that Paul insisted the Ephesian elders practise: “Therefore, take heed to yourselves and to all the flock of God, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

His own leadership style was marked by the characteristics of a shepherd. Look at 1 Thess. 2:7-12:

Gentleness (7- 8). The gentleness of a nursing mother (providing love, protection, nourishment): 7We were gentle among you just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. 8So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

Sacrifice (8-9). He was willing to impart his own life to them; laboured among them night and day so that he would not be a financial burden to them: 8...we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. 9For you remember, brethren, our labour and toil; for labouring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.

Spirituality (10). Notice the qualities of the “elder” here – devout, just, blameless. 10You are witnesses and God also how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe.

Care (11-12). He exhorted, comforted, and charged them: 11 you know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you as a father does his own children, 12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

Peter was a shepherd, again, not by profession but by Jesus’ commission: 15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. 18 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” (Jn. 21:15-17)

Jesus’ commission of Peter undoubtedly formed the basis for Peter’s exhortation to other church leaders as to their attitude to and motivation for leadership: “1 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away (1 Pet. 5:1-4).

A Caution

Unfortunately, what we see being practised today in many churches is not the shepherd model of leadership but the corporate management model. If you read some of the church advertisements for pastors, you would think it was a corporation advertising for senior executive.

The emphasis is on visionary leadership, growth, management and motivation skills. It isn’t that shepherds don’t have these skills. It’s that churches now are emphasizing management skills rather than the heart attitude of the person.

You can be a leader and not be a shepherd, but if you are a shepherd, you will also be a leader by definition. Shepherds are leaders whose leadership style reflects God’s heart for his people. As Glenn Wagner puts it: “If our goal is faithful shepherdship, the result will be effective leadership” (E. Glenn Wagner, Escape from Church Inc., Zondervan, 1999, 142). Wagner also points out that although the Bible addresses the issue of church leadership and the church’s need for, and relationship to, leaders, nowhere does the Bible address any church official by the title “leader” (Wagner, 141). So Wagner asks the question: “If none of these leadership or authoritative or ruler titles are used to describe pastors in the New Testament, why are we using them? Why are we building a model of ministry around the concept of leader, when the Bible itself largely avoids it?” (Wagner, 141).

I think we would do well to use the biblical terminology, “shepherd” or “pastor” because in that term the emphasis is on God’s people, not goals, programs, or budgets. The designation “leader” connotes drive, structure, hierarchy, domination, plans, human wisdom and ambition, and power, but the term “shepherd” connotes an assembly of people moving and working together as a community.

1 Jeremiah also condemns Israel’s false shepherds (10:21ff; see also 25:34-36).

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors

Biblical Models Of Christian Leadership, Part 2 - The Servant Model (1)

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The Servant Model Of Christian Leadership

In part 1 of this two-part series on Biblical models of Christian leadership, I outlined the principle and paradigm of “the shepherd model” for leadership. In this article, I want to discuss the second biblical model for Christian leadership - “the servant”.

A. The Principle Of Servant Leadership

In addition to the term “shepherd,” the Bible clearly indicates that leaders of God’s people are to be “servants”. The common term used today Christian circles is “servant leader”, which I think is an attempt to reflect a biblical approach and attitude to leadership – namely, the leader as servant; or, a leader who serves. The term “servant leadership” sounds like an oxymoron, but it really isn’t when we understand what the term means and implies. The term becomes less confusing when we understand it as follows: the position is “leader”; the attitude is “serving”.

In any event, the whole notion of “servant leadership” is included in “shepherding” that we have already discussed because the two terms are vitally integrated – both are leadership positions and both demand the attitude of serving. So, perhaps the term we should use is “shepherds who serve”, or “servant shepherds.”

Servant leadership means that the leaders serve those they lead in order to make their followers happier in their work environment, more appreciated, more productive in their work, more rewarding, more fruitful, more challenging. The job of servant leaders is “to work hard to provide others with the resources and working conditions they need to accomplish their ministry goals. They make others feel more important than themselves. They have others’ best interests at heart” (Aubrey Malphurs, Dynamics, 46-47).

Solomon was certainly a leader. He got things done. He was a great planner and  visionary. But he was not a shepherd – in fact, quite the opposite. So much so that, after his death, the people of Israel, whom Solomon had abused with his authoritarian rule, said to Rehoboam, his son:  “Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore,  lighten the burdensome service of your father and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you.”  (1 Kgs. 12:4). Now, how did Rehoboam respond to this request. He turned to two groups of people for advice – his fathers’ elders and Rehoboam’s young peers. It is very informative to note the contrast between the advice that Solomon’s elders gave to his son, Rehoboam, and the advice that Rehoboam’s new, young counsellors gave him. 

Solomon’s elders said (and note this verse well): “If you will be A Servant to these people today, and Serve Them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kgs. 12:6-7). That was good advice borne out of experience! But Rehoboam’s new, young advisors said the opposite: “Thus shall you say to them: My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s waist.  And now, whereas my father put a heavy yoke on you, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges” (12:10-11).

Unfortunately, Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders and followed the advice of his young men, his peers and actually increased the burdensome demands on the people instead of lightening them. The result was disastrous.

The Lord Jesus most thoroughly exemplifies this principle of servant leadership. This is clearly taught by Paul in Philippians, where he instructs them to pursue this principle themselves (2:3-4) and then gives the ultimate example of Jesus (2:5-16).

So, what does this paradigm of servant leadership look like?

B. The Paradigm Of Servant Leadership

To examine this paradigm, we are going to study to two biblical texts – 1 Cor. 3-4 and Phil. 2:5-16.

Textual Study #1: 1 Corinthians 3-4

The subject in this text is: “What is the role of pastors / ministers? Over the history of the church, two extremes have been apparent:

1. Clericalism in which the clergy are raised up on a pedestal above everyone else.

2. Anticlericalism in which clergy are opposed or considered unnecessary or even unbiblical.

Largely, in evangelical circles, our view of church structure and leadership is balanced between the priesthood of all believers and the leadership of those who labour in the word.

The Corinthian church was divided into parties / factions, each one claiming a certain leader as their head. These were “personality cults”. This, Paul says, is pure “carnality” (3:1-4). This division into personality cults is the activity of people who are driven by the flesh, not people who are led by the Spirit. That’s why Paul had to speak to them “as” to carnal and not “as to spiritual people” (1). He isn't here creating two classes of Christians (spiritual Christians vs. carnal Christians). Rather, he is saying that their divisive behaviour (party politics) was the activity of fleshly people not that of spiritual people. The division of the church into leadership (personality) sects / cults was a wrong view of ministry, church structure, and spirituality.

One faction was saying, “I am of Paul” (1 Cor. 1:12). But Paul replies, “Was Paul crucified for you?” (13). Answer: No!  Conclusion: Then he is not the head of the church. Another faction was saying, “I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12). You might think that this group was the right one, the most spiritual. But Christ has nothing to do with a spirit of division and party-making. Paul responds, “Is Christ divided?” (13). Answer: No!  Conclusion: Then he is not identified with one group vs. another. He is the one head of the whole church, not of a faction within the church.

This state of affairs gives rise to Paul’s question in 1 Cor. 3:5, “What then is Paul and what is Apollos...? He is essentially asking, “Who do you think we are? Who do you think apostles / church leaders are? The answer is, they are ... ministers through whom you believed as the Lord gave to each one” (3:5). That’s what we are, Paul says,  servants of Christ and the church through whom you believed. We had distinct roles according to the gifting God gave us. Thus, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase (6). We exercised our God-given gifts in our service for God for the benefit of the church. So, don’t give the glory to Paul or Apollos for neither he who plants is anything nor he who waters, but God who gives increase (7). We couldn’t make the seed of the Word grow to save our lives. We merely planted and watered like good servant farmers in God’s field. All the glory goes to God – he alone can make the seed spring up into abundant life.

Furthermore, the one who plants (Paul) and the one who waters (Apollos) are one. We aren’t divided, even though our gifts and functions in the church are different (8a). We have a common, single task, focus, and goal. We are “God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (9b).

That’s the structure of ministry: God calls us into his service as his “fellow-workers”; He gives to each of us our own “reward” according to our own labour (8b); and “you are God’s field / building (9b), the sphere in which God is working to produce a crop and a home for his people.

In 1 Cor. 4, the apostle Paul begins to answer the question he asked in 1 Cor. 3:5. Let a man so consider us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (4:1). So this is who and what pastors and church leaders are:

I. Church Leaders Are Servants Of Christ (4:1a)

This is where it all begins. We cannot be ministers of the Word (preachers / teachers) or leaders of the church (elders, pastors, deacons) unless we are first “ministers / servants (lit. “underlings”) of Christ.” So, Paul is painting a picture here of how church leaders must view themselves, not as men with high rank and honour, but lowly, humble servants of Christ and of his church – “underlings.”

Now, to keep the picture balanced, lest the members of the church despise their leaders or consider them unnecessary, Paul clearly teaches in other places that church leadership is a noble calling (1 Tim. 3:1) and church leaders are to be honoured, even doubly honoured (1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:17) for who they are and what they do. This is how church members must view their leaders. But the view of church leaders of themselves and the attitude with which they are to serve is that of servants (“underlings) – not underlings of the church, but underlings of Christ.

So, church leadership (Christian ministry) begins with one’s relationship to Christ. He is our head; we are his servants. This denotes obedience, submission, devotion, accountability. When we are confident in and committed to this relationship to Christ, this liberates us from the tyranny of criticism and judgementalism by church members.

That’s why Paul says, With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself (i.e. my conscience is clear) yet I am not justified by this (just because I have a clear conscience does not mean I am right or clear of offense), but He who judges me is the Lord (4:3-4). The Corinthians (under the influence of false apostles) were being very critical of Paul accusing him of misusing his authority and not keeping his word. This type of false accusation and unsubstantiated criticism is not what church leaders bow to. The Lord is our judge. Therefore, judge nothing before the time – don't get drawn into premature judgements. Wait, until the Lord comes, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God (5). That’s when the truth will be manifested. That’s when true justice will be administered. That’s when each one will have appropriate praise from God, for that’s who we are accountable to.

Application. Paul says he has figuratively transferred these things (i.e. the principles he has just outlined) to myself and Apollos (6a), so that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against another (6). So, the principle of servanthood is just as applicable to Paul and Apollos as anyone else and they demonstrated it in their leadership. Thus, the Corinthians should learn from them (Paul and Apollos) not to be puffed up about one leader over and against another. Their sectarian view of leadership (breaking up the church into parties under the acclaimed leadership of various prominent personalities) was not what they saw demonstrated in the lives of Paul and Apollos.

Challenge. Paul sets out direct challenges to us:

1. Who makes you differ from another? (7a). What makes you different from anyone else? What right do you have to make such distinctions among yourselves such that you divide yourselves up into various factions?

2. What do you have that you did not receive? (7b).

3. If you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as though you had not? (7c)

Conclusion. Verses 3-7 emphasize that pastors / ministers are accountable to Christ for their ministry. Of course, the question is always raised, “Well, aren’t they accountable to the body of Christ, the congregation?” Of course they are. But Paul isn’t dealing with that here. He is dealing with the elevation of certain “names” by certain factions, which ministers of Christ must always oppose. We do not serve the self-interests of self-appointed factions in the church. We serve the interests of Christ alone in ministering to his people.

Further, Paul is pointing out our highest accountability. Accountability to the church is not the highest accountability. Accountability to Christ is our highest, most serious, most holy and most frightening accountability, because ultimately we will stand before Him and all that we have done will be judged because he sees and hears everything (wood, hay, stubble, which are useless and will be burned up, or gold, silver, precious stones, which are valuable and will remain).

II. Church Leaders Are Stewards Of God’s Word (4:1b-2)

“Stewards of the mysteries of God” (1b). “Mysteries of God refers to those truths which were formerly concealed but now revealed. They are mysteries because we could never have solved them on our own and we could never have conceived how God would solve them. What “mysteries” is Paul referring to? Mysteries like: who would be the Messiah, when would he come, how would he redeem his people? How would God bring together both Jew and Gentile equally into one body?

These truths were revealed by the N. T. apostles, the stewards / trustees of God’s revealed truth, and preachers today continue to bear this stewardship responsibility.

Application. We are responsible for teaching the truths once for all delivered to the saints. Teaching is our primary responsibility (1 Tim. 3:2) - not teaching our own ideas but teaching revealed truth. And we are required to be faithful (2) – i.e. trustworthy. Trustees must handle in a trustworthy manner the deposit (of truth) that is entrusted to them. Unfortunately, there are many unfaithful ministers, untrustworthy stewards, like pastors who deny the trustworthiness of the Bible, the authority of the Bible, the deity of Christ - pastors who don't study or teach the Bible; pastors who reduce the Bible to little more than a myth. They change it to mean what they want. They delete the parts they don't like.

Challenge. We need to resolve to be faithful stewards of the Word as it is written and teach it clearly and accurately with application to contemporary audiences, not twisting it to suit ourselves.

III. Church Leaders Are The Lowest Of The Low (4:8-13)

We are “a spectacle to the world (9). The imagery is of a condemned man / criminal, who, before a packed arena is thrown to the lions, to the delight and entertainment of the audience. Paul is saying: We ministers are not fat cats, sitting in middle class suburbs enjoying the privileges of position, power, and wealth. We aren’t like you rich Corinthians who seem to already be reigning like kings, who seem to be enjoying the benefits of a realized eschatology, for whom everything is “now”; nothing is “not yet”. They were living as though the kingdom of God had already come in fullness. But such is not the case in reality as you can see in Paul’s own life. Suffering precedes glory, the cross [e.g. hunger, thirst, poor clothes, beaten, homelessness etc. (11-12)] comes before the crown.

We are the scum of the earth, the off-scouring of all things (13). The imagery is of the scum from dirty pots and pans in the kitchen that is washed down the sink or thrown into the garbage. They were considered the dregs of society. This is the picture Paul paints to show the contrast between the Corinthians (their lifestyle, their self-importance)  and the apostles. He reverses his description of what they were like when God called them – weak, foolish (1:26f.). Instead, now they are “kings, rich”, whereas he is a “fool for Christ” (10).

Nonetheless, in his situation he is a model for all ministers of the gospel who are to demonstrate the life and example of Jesus. When we are cursed / reviled, we bless. When we are persecuted, we endure. When we are slandered and defamed, we exhort and encourage.

Challenge. How far removed is this picture of ministry from ourselves? Most of us cannot apply Paul’s imagery to ourselves. But the point is, don’t try or expect to be a popular pastor. The gospel, properly and fully preached, is an unpopular message because it reveals the truth about us, because it is an exclusive message (one way, one Saviour), and because it demands a holy life.

IV. Church Leaders Are The Spiritual Fathers Of Christ’s Church (4:14-21)

Paul is not writing to shame or humiliate the Corinthians, but to warn them “as my dear children” (14). True spiritual fathers are few and far between. There are lots of guardians (the slave who supervised a boy / a son re: discipline, dress, food etc.), but not many fathers” (15a). Guardians are not motivated by love for the child, but duty to the slave master. But Paul had begotten them through the gospel (15b). They were his spiritual children. Therefore, imitate me (16) and in case they had forgotten how he behaved, he was sending Timothy to remind them (17). Some were “puffed up (18), thinking that he would not come and check them out, but he was coming to find out if they truly were spiritually powerful people or just all talk.

Challenge. True pastoral leadership is marked by gentleness, care and concern, and discipline (when needed). Paul didn’t want to come to them with a rod but in love and in the spirit of gentleness (21).

Textual Study #2: Philippians 2:5-16

As we go through this passage, please remember that the apostle Paul is drawing a vivid picture here of the ultimate example of servant leadership. What we want to find out here is what is it about Christ’s leadership that we (like the Philippians) need to learn from and begin to practice. That’s why Paul has this passage here – to instruct the church in what it means to be a true servant leader.

The church at Philippi was divided (2:1-3a) by disputes, arguments, complaints; by people pushing their own agendas and promoting themselves. Paul exhorts them: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit“ (3a). Instead, he wants them to “fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind (2).

What they needed was to imitate Christ in his humility (3b-4) so that they would be united, by regarding each other better than themselves. Hence, Paul says, “but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (3b), by acting in each other’s best interest, “not by each of you looking out for his own interests, but rather for the interests of others” (4).

They needed to change their attitude!  Attitude is the key to acting in other people’s best interests. Remember, “The position is leader; the attitude is serving.” Thus, the apostle Paul says that... 

I. Servant Leaders Need To Express The Right Attitude (5-11)

Attitude is so important for how we live and particularly for how we lead. You’ve probably heard your mother or school teacher at one time or another say: “You need to change your attitude, young man.” And that’s what Paul says to the Christians at Philippi. He says: “You’ve got an attitude problem. You need to start working together. You need to show mutual concern, not self-ambition. You need lowliness of mind, not self-conceit. You need to look out for one another’s interests, not your own. You need to change your attitude! You need the attitude of Christ! “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (5). He is the supreme example of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others (the true servant leader); of humility out of love and respect for others.

This is the way to lead the church in unity, by lowering self and elevating others, just as Christ lowered himself so that others could be exalted. To shepherd God’s people properly, we need to express Christ’s attitude to one another. First…

1. The Attitude Christ Expressed In Emptying Himself “who being in the form of God did not consider equality with God something to be held onto” (6). Before coming into the world and taking on human form, he was “in very nature God (NIV). Paul is Not saying that Jesus was God in “form” (i.e. appearance) but not in reality. No, to be in the “form” of God means that he possessed all the characteristics of God that are essential to the reality of being God. That’s who he was. He was nothing less than God (Jn. 1:1). But despite being God, He did not consider his “equal-to-God” position with all its rights and privileges something to be held onto at all cost. Quite the contrary.  He let it go. Unlike human monarchs and presidents who desperately hold onto power and position, He let it go! “He emptied himself” (7a).

Christ emptied himself by the position that he took. He gave up heaven to stoop to earth (6-7). Rather than fighting for his own rights and position as the Philippians did, Christ “emptied” himself. He made himself of no reputation,  divesting himself of his privileges but without in any way ceasing to be fully God.

He gave up his glorious position to become despised (cf. Jn. 17:4). The One who was adored by the angels of heaven became despised by the human race.

He gave up his infinite riches to become poor. He became voluntarily poor (no place to be born; no home to live in; no bed to sleep in; no tomb to be buried in). He took on our burden / debt of sin (cf. Jn. 1:29). The sinless One became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).

He gave up the independent exercise of his divine rights to become obedient. He became the perfect servant whose mission was to do the Father’s will. As someone else has said: The only One who had “the right to assert his rights, waived them” (Wuest, cited in Hendriksen, 109). Majesty was given up for meekness. Self-existence was replaced by self-renunciation. Superiority was set aside for submission.

This is the mystery and wonder of the incarnation, that God became a man without ever ceasing to be God. This is the attitude, the mindset that Paul is urging on us as leaders – complete selflessness that looks out for the concerns of others. Not grasping onto our own rights and privileges, but letting them go for the benefit of others.

What did this “emptying” look like? How did He do this? “... (by) taking the form of a bondservant” (7b). This was an act of self-abasement, self-impoverishment. Christ emptied himself by the position that he took. He took the form of a servant / slave – i.e. He took it in addition to, not in place of, his deity. The One who was in the form of God also took the form of a servant. That’s how he could be our Saviour - because he is the God-man, fully God and fully human, and thus the perfect sacrifice for our sins, our perfect substitute.

The form of a slave does not mean that he “appeared” as a slave but really was not. 

He actually took the lowest position on the economic and social scale – someone without rights or privileges, the servant of all. Christ entered world history not as the “Lord” but as a slave”. He came not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many.

Christ emptied himself by the position that he took. And, Christ emptied himself by the nature that he took. The likeness of human beings” (7c). Now Paul uses a different word – not “form” but “likeness”. Paul is saying that Christ was “similar to our humanity in some respects and dissimilar in others” (Fee, 213). He was Similar in that he was genuinely and fully human, like us. But He was Dissimilar in that he was at the same time fully God. Thus, the likeness has to do with his full humanity but sinless nature (cf. Rom. 8:3) – like us but not exactly, because he was not solely human: he was God manifest in flesh (cf. Heb. 1:3).

Servant leaders need to express the right attitude.  First, the attitude of Christ expressed in emptying himself.  Second...

2. The Attitude Christ Expressed In Humbling Himself: “...being found in appearance / fashion as a man, he Humbled himself” (8a). As God, he chose “to empty himself and as man he chose to “humble himself”. This is the attitude that Paul wants us to adopt - self-renunciation for the benefit of others!

Christ gave up his divine superiority to take on human inferiority. He was born in a stable to a no-name, disrespected virgin. He grew up in obscurity and lived in poverty. He did miraculous acts of kindness for which he was persecuted. He came to his own people who did not receive him. He was ridiculed, mocked, tortured, and crucified.

He took the lowest position on earth. Just as He gave up heaven to stoop to earth, so He gave up life to submit to death (8). That’s how he humbled himself by “becoming obedient to death” (8b). He gave up everything to become nothing, even giving up his life to submit to death – The Ultimate Act Of Self-Sacrifice. And this was no ordinary death - “even the death of the cross” (8c). This was the most painful of deaths. This was the most shameful of deaths – a condemned man carrying his own cross to a desolate place outside the city; crucified between two thieves; mocked by the religious leaders and the crowd. Death on a cross was an accursed death (Gal. 3:10, 13). He bore the curse of God on account of our sin.

This is the mystery of redemption: God on a cross! No wonder the rulers of this age could not grasp it for had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8). The One who did not consider equality with God something to be held onto at all costs, in fact let it go by voluntarily setting aside his divine rights and privileges, by humbling himself and appearing in world history as a man, so that we could see God in flesh and know the love of God expressed in its fullness through his death on the cross – The Ultimate Act Of Self-Humiliation.

As Gordon Fee puts it: The Divine Weakness (death at the hands of his creatures, his enemies) is the Divine Scandal (Fee, 217). God on a cross was and is a scandal. It went against everything the 1st century disciples knew and expected of the Messiah. It contradicted human wisdom that the Gentiles sought and it contradicted the divine sign of power that the Jews looked for.

Christ emptied himself and humbled himself, taking the lowest position on earth. But God gave him the most exalted position in heaven: “Therefore, God has highly exalted him” (9a). Lest you doubt that the One who took the lowest place and suffered such ignominy could possibly be God the story of redemption continues. Obedience to death on a cross was not the end. God has exalted him like no one else (Eph. 4:10). He raised Christ from the depths of death to the heights of heaven. He exalted Him from the lowest place on earth to the most exalted position in heaven where he is now seated at the right hand of God, crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 1:3; 12:2; Eph. 1:20-22).

His exaltation reverses his emptying. The One who took the lowest place is honoured with the highest place (cf. Matt. 23:12). The One who was condemned by man is exalted by God. The One who was crucified is the one who is crowned. The One who became poor  is gloriously rich. The One who was rejected by man is fully accepted by God. The One who became a servant now rules as King. The One who wore a crown of thorns now wears a crown of glory. The One who was weak is now all powerful. The One who was our sacrifice is now our High priest.

Christ’s self-emptying and self-humiliation are now displayed as proof that he is equal with God. This is God’s vindication of Him – that he is truly God. The mystery and paradox of God on a cross is resolved. His humiliation and crucifixion are but the prelude to his exaltation by God so that what appeared to be defeat was in fact victory.

God gave him the most exalted position in heaven. And God gave him the most extolled name in the universe (9b-11): “…the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (9b-10a). It is the purpose of God that the name of Jesus (the Saviour of his people) will take on special significance – not that of an earthly name but of an exalted Saviour.

God Gave Him A Name That Will Be Revered By Every Creature: “…those in heaven and those on earth and those under the earth” (10b). The homage that alone is due to God by his creation (Isa. 45:18-24a) is assigned here by God to Christ. This is the ultimate vindication of his deity. This is not just the homage of those who have been redeemed by him, but the bowing of every creature to his universal lordship and sovereignty. Every knee means heavenly beings, living humans, the dead, and the underworld of demons. When this name is known, just the mention of it will cause everyone to bow the knee in homage. The redeemed will bow in rejoicing and the damned will bow in remorse.

His most extolled name reverses his humiliation. The One who was mocked with a purple robe, scourged with cruel whips, humiliated with a crown of thorns, spit upon by wicked men, and condemned with despicable injustice will be acknowledged by every creature.

God gave him a name that will be revered by every creature. And He Gave Him A Name That Will Be Confessed By Every Tongue: “…that at the name of Jesus every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (11). The “bowing of the knee” is the reverence of the lesser to the greater and the “confession of the tongue” is the acknowledgement of the creature to the Creator. His name that was once so despised will cause every knee in creation to bow and every tongue to confess that the Lord is Jesus Christ. He is God, the universal sovereign (cf. Acts 2:36). Jesus, the suffering Saviour, is the exalted Lord. 

This is the grand finale to his humiliation and exaltation – the highest position and the divine title of Lord; the One with all power and authority. This is the ultimate goal for which we expectantly wait - the homage of every knee; and the confession of every tongue so that Jesus Christ has his rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords. And all this “to the glory of God the Father”. For when the Son is honoured, so is the Father. The unity of the Godhead is perfect.

That’s the model for us. If we are to shepherd the church of Christ in unity we need to imitate the chief Shepherd. The key is having the attitude / mind of Christ - lowering ourselves for the benefit of others.

So, first, servant leaders need to express the right attitude.  And, second…

II. Servant Leaders Need To Engage In The Right Activity (2:12-16)

“So, then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed (not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence), work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (12). When your mind is transformed by the attitude of humility, your activity will be transformed by the attitude of obedience. Changing our mindset isn’t enough. Rather, a true change of mind toward one another must transform our behaviour with one another. Obedience is the underlying characteristic of Christ-likeness without which we cannot worship and serve in unity.

This is Paul’s challenge now. He’s told us How To Think; now he challenges us How To Act as servant leaders. It’s one thing how you behave when someone is watching, but the true test is how you behave when no one is looking. That’s what shows whether you are truly obedient and loyal, isn’t it?

So, how do we express our obedience to Christ?  By…

1. Working In Ways That Show Our Salvation In Christ (12-13): “ out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (12b). This has nothing to do with the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer - although that is biblical and I believe it. This has nothing to do with working For our salvation. This has to do with what one commentator says is “working out what God in his grace has worked in.”

We need to put into practice the “attitude” of Christ so that our salvation is evident in how we live and act together as a church, not in disunity, striving for our individual rights, but in humility serving one another.

We serve the One who will one day be universally acclaimed. That should cause us some fear and trembling, shouldn’t it? How can we be so individualistic, so self-centred,  so preoccupied with self interest when we see how Christ acted?  We need to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”

But, you say, how can we do that? We can do it because “…God is the One working in you both to desire and to work for His good pleasure” (13). God is the One who gives us the indwelling power to do it. He works in us in such a way that we desire His good pleasure and that’s what we work for – not for our own pleasure or our own interests but God's!

We maintain our obedience to Christ by working in ways that show our salvation in Christ – working together in God’s power and for God’s pleasure.  And by...

2. Living In Ways That Show Our Transformation In Christ (14-16): “ all things without complaining and disputing” (14). Complaining and disputing have no place among those who are being obedient to Christ, who have the attitude of Christ. To live in ways that show our transformation in Christ means ...

Showing Our Morality In Christ: “...being blameless and harmless” before the world, “children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation” (15a).

We are to be people who stand out in the world - people of integrity, uprightness, forthrightness, transparency, with nothing to hide and nothing to be accused of. People who beam the light of the gospel into a morally and spiritually dark, corrupt, and perverted world. People who stand out in a crooked and perverted world by working in ways that show our salvation in Christ; and by living in ways that show our transformed morality in Christ.

Our transformation in Christ means showing our morality in Christ and Showing Our Testimony For Christ: “...among whom you shine as light-bearers in the world” (15b). We shine as lights for God in the world by “holding forth the word of life” (16a). This is the mark of people who are the presence of Christ on earth. They show their morality in Christ – blameless and harmless, children of God without fault”. And they show their testimony in Christ – holding forth the word of life (the gospel), both in their words and in their works.

Summation: Do you see what Paul is saying to us as church leaders? To be true servant leaders of God’s people, we need to express the right attitude to one another and we need to engage in the right activity with one another. And the example that underlies all this is Christ himself - “Let this mind be in You which was also in Christ Jesus.” If He was willing to give up everything and become nothing so that we who were nothing might have everything, how much more should we do the same for those whom God has entrusted to our care and leadership! If Jesus was willing to empty himself of his divine rights and humble himself to the lowest possible place, should not we be willing to humble ourselves in order to effectively serve God’s people - respecting one another and serving one another as Christ did. This is what Paul is calling us to in this text.

If we have the attitude of Christ, we will be united with those we lead, by expressing the right attitude to one another (the attitude of servants not masters; givers not takers; respect not contempt) and by engaging in the right activity with one another (working in ways that show our salvation in Christ; and living in ways that show our transformation in Christ). As Gordon Fee puts it: “The principle is love (selflessness), the pattern is Christ (humility), the power is the Spirit, and the ultimate purpose is the glory of God” (Fee, 227).

Will you commit to being like Christ in attitude and activity as a leader? If so, what are you going to do about it? Perhaps you’re saying: “I need to Change The Way I Think. My attitude of loftiness needs to change to one of lowliness. My attitude of arrogance needs to change to one of humility. My attitude of self-ambition needs to change to one of sacrifice.

Or, perhaps you’re saying: “I need to Change The Way I Act. I’m not really working out my salvation with fear and trembling that one day I’ll have to give account to God for how I act. I’m not really showing Christian morality in the way I behave. I need to be upright, transparent, honest, righteous in my dealings with others. I need to “shine as a light” for God in this dark world by sharing the gospel to those who need Christ as the opportunities arise.

If so, would you make that commitment today? Perhaps you need to change your thought life by thinking about the things that are Christ-honouring - things that are good and pure. Perhaps you need to change your family life by putting Christ first in your priorities and conversations. Perhaps you need to change your work life by displaying Christ to those you work with. Perhaps you need to change your church life by ministering to others in meaningful ways for their benefit. Perhaps you need to change your evangelistic life by being ready to speak for Christ whatever the situation.

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors

Biblical Models Of Christian Leadership, Part 3 - The Servant Model (2)

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The Servant Model Of Christian Leadership (Continued, part 2)

In Biblical Models of Christian Leadership, Part 1, we discussed the “Shepherd Model” of leadership. In Part 2, we began to discuss the “Servant Model” of leadership – specifically:

A. The Principle Of Servant Leadership

B. The Paradigm Of Servant Leadership.

In this Part 3, we will examine another aspect of the “Servant Model” of biblical leadership…

C. The Paradox Of Servant Leadership

Servanthood is the principle and the paradigm of Christian leadership that Jesus and the apostles taught and practised. This paradigm is, however, also a paradox as Jesus explains in Mark 10:35-35. Let’s study that text together…

Textual Study: Mark 10:35-45

The subject that is being addressed in this passage is “Greatness in Christ’s kingdom.” In contrast to the kingdom of men, Jesus teaches his disciples a brand new kingdom perspective that in Christ’s kingdom, lower is higher and last is first. This is the paradox of Christian leadership that accompanies the new order of Jesus’ kingdom. Notice the contrast that Jesus makes between greatness in the kingdom of men and greatness in the kingdom of God…

I. In The Kingdom Of Men, Worldly Greatness Is Measured In The Superior Status Of Self (35-42)

Notice firstly that...

1. In the kingdom of men, greatness is measured in terms of prominence

James and John were part of Jesus’ “inner circle” –  the leaders-among-leaders. They came to Jesus and said: “’Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’” (35-36). Their bold request was this: Grant us that we may sit, one on your right hand and the other on your left in your glory (37). They wanted the most privileged places, the top spots, the place usually reserved for the most influential guests, the place to which the master of the feast would usually invite his closest friends – “Come and sit up here with me” (Lk. 14:8ff).

In response, Jesus challenged them as to whether they would be able to pay the price for such a privileged position – the same sacrificial price he would pay; whether they would be able to drink the cup of God's judgement as he would; whether they would be able to be baptized into the same death as he would be. Surprisingly, they answered, “Yes! We can pay the price.” And Jesus said, “You’ll pay the price alright” (39). Not only was their request arrogance of the highest order, but it belied their complete misunderstanding of Christian discipleship.

James and John had a totally wrong concept of the kingdom, of the work of Christ, of who they were and where they fit in. They completely misjudged their ability to endure with Christ. They knew nothing of the suffering that would precede glory. They thought the time of reigning with Christ was imminent and they wanted a crown without the cross.

After all (so they may have reasoned), they were Jesus’ closest confidants. Wouldn’t that entitle them to a special place of consideration in the kingdom? They were the leaders over the rest of the disciples. Wouldn’t that entitle them to special privilege in the kingdom? They were related to Jesus: they were family (Jesus’ mother and their mother were probably sisters). Didn’t that give them an edge over the others when Jesus would allocate their reigning positions in the kingdom?

In any event, they had a distinct sense of superiority over the others. Somehow they thought they were more worthy than the other disciples of a place of honour in Jesus’ kingdom and they wanted to make sure that they got their due reward.

Little did they know the irony in it all. Their imminent reward would be to suffer and die for Christ. They would pay the price alright as Jesus said. But to their chagrin, Jesus said, to sit on my right hand and my left is not mine to give – it’s for those for whom it is prepared (40). God has foreordained who should occupy such positions. They aren’t arbitrarily assigned to anyone who just asks for them. There are qualifications, there’s a price to be paid, a sacrifice to be made, a service to be rendered to God. This is all about sacrificial service, not about rewards earned.

When the other disciples heard what James and John had requested you can understand how they felt. They began to be greatly displeased with James and John (41). The human response to one-upmanship is anger, indignation for thinking that somehow they were better than the rest of them; for thinking that they deserved a special, privileged place in Christ’s kingdom. James’ and John’s behaviour instantly infiltrated the thinking of  the rest of them so that they all were dragged into this immature, self-centred attitude.

That’s how one person’s attitude can affect everyone else. It doesn’t take much to incite envy, jealousy, ambition. Those who were previously passive become enraged. Those who were previously content become discontent. Those who were previously happy begin to complain. It raises this question: What kind of impact is your attitude as a leader having on others? Do those around you become more like Christ because of your example as a leader? In fact, do they see Christ in you at all? 

Instantly the disciples’ attitude changed into competitiveness. “If James & John deserve special treatment, then why not us? We’ve been as faithful as they have. We’ve given up everything for Christ just like them.” And each one started to vie for a favoured position in the kingdom. After all, why should James and John be so favoured? “If they think they should have it, so should I What do they think they have to offer that I don’t? What have they done that I haven’t done? What special merit have they earned that I haven’t?”

That’s non-Christian thinking – all about self. That’s how greatness is measured in the world – in the superior status of self. That’s why the climb up the corporate ladder becomes all-consuming. People want prominence and dominance at any cost, sometimes doing anything they have to in order to get it.

In secular thinking, that’s how success is measured – by your influence, power, prominence, position, wealth, title. I don’t understand what motivates that kind of drive for attention, special treatment, an honoured position, favouritism, the envy of others. Yet, sadly, that’s often the case among Christians and Christian leaders. A worldly mindset often infiltrates the way Christians think. Receiving the adulation of others is a passion for them. Having others under their control is paramount for them. And there is no place that that kind of ambition and drive is  more rampant than in the church and Christian ministry. Often that’s where people push themselves to the forefront. That’s where they can gain a certain status and influence. That’s where they can easily influence others. Someone has said that the church is probably the easiest place on earth to gain prominence because there are such low standards and loose controls. And yet it should be the place where the strictest standards for leadership are adhered to.

Jesus says that the whole notion of greatness that is measured in terms of self promotion is worldly thinking. It’s related to secular culture, not God's kingdom.

So, In the kingdom of men, greatness is measured in terms of prominence.  And...

2. In the kingdom of men, greatness is measured in terms of power

“You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them” (42).

There are those who are “considered” as rulers in the world by those who are under their domination. But in truth, Jesus infers, God is the only supreme ruler and Lord. Men and women may be impressed with their show of power but it didn’t impress Jesus, for in worldly settings, those who are powerful today are deposed tomorrow.

The Roman rulers in that day did lord it over their subjects. The great ones in the halls of power did impose their authority on the people. Theirs was a rule of dominance and imposition and oppression - of harshness, inconsiderateness, trampling on others to get and keep their power.

We understand that kind of oppressive regime, don’t we? We’ve been exposed (though from a distance) to the Idi Amins of the world, the Saddam Husseins, the Hilters and Stalins and Mussolinis, and Ayatollah Khomeinis. Even at a lesser level, perhaps we have all experienced bosses in our workplace who have “lorded it over us.” Perhaps you’ve experienced this in a marriage relationship or from an angry father or school teacher. Those in authority often abuse their positions. They measure greatness in terms of their superior status of self over others.

That’s how worldly greatness is measured in the kingdom of men – by the superior status of self. But, Jesus says...

II. In The Kingdom Of God, Spiritual Greatness Is Measured In Sacrifical Service To Others (43-45)

In the kingdom of men, worldly greatness is measured in the superior status of self. But, Jesus says, it shall not be so among you (43a). In Christ’s kingdom, greatness is turned on its head. Worldly greatness may be gained through prominence and power, but the paradox is that …

1. In Christ’s kingdom, greatness is measured in terms of lower being higher - but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant (43a). To be spiritually great in Christ’s kingdom, you must become a “servant” to others – to meet their needs, to act in their best interests.

2. In Christ’s kingdom, greatness is measured in terms of the last being first - And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all (44). To be spiritually great in Christ’s kingdom, you must become last on the social scale, a “slave” - one without rights or assets. That’s the paradox of servant leadership. For in Christ’s kingdom, lower is higher and last is first.

The greatest example of this, of course, is Christ himself. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (45). Even the Son of Man in his true greatness didn’t come in a position of power and dominance. He didn’t come to be served, to solicit the subservience of others, to take people captive, with the expectation that others would serve his every whim, or to occupy a place of honour, exaltation, and recognition.

Jesus came to serve. He didn't come to be served, to exercise prominence and power but to provide redemption, to seek reconciliation, to love the unlovable, to serve those who wanted to be leaders and lords. This is Jesus’ mission statement! John the Baptist’s mission statement was “He must increase and I must decrease”. Paul’s mission statement was, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Jesus mission statement was, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” He is the quintessential servant, the One who took the low place in serving others. The perfect Servant came not to be served but to serve”. That’s why he came – to show that true greatness in God's kingdom is not about power and prominence but about servant-hood: Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever desires to be first shall be slave of all” (43-44).

Jesus served his disciples in the Upper Room. He served his Father – did his will, spoke his words, submitted to his authority. He served his people, coming to his own who did not receive him. He served those with physical needs he fed and healed. Those with spiritual needs he told the way of life. He went about doing good (Acts 10:38). His was a ministry of unhurried but effective and efficient activity. That’s why he came. He came to serve. That’s our model of leadership. But notice also…

He came to sacrifice: give his life a ransom for many” (45b). The One who was the creator of life, gave his life. He was the creator of physical life (Col. 1:16) and He was the creator of spiritual life (Jn. 1:4; 10:10; 14:6). The One who was the creator of physical and spiritual life gave his sinless life as our ransom. He was the Lamb without blemish and without spot. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. That’s why he alone was qualified to give his life a ransom for many”. Jesus came to give his life as a fully sufficient, substitutionary sacrifice (1 Pet. 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:21), a sacrifice sufficient for all the sins of every person ever born but a sacrifice that was efficacious only for the many”, not everyone, for not everyone would receive his sacrificial ransom.


Jesus was the Perfect Servant in life and in death, in service and in sacrifice. He is the perfect model of what greatness is in his kingdom, for in Christ’s kingdom, lower is higher and last is first. That’s the paradox of servant-leadership. Greatness in Christ’s kingdom is measured not by the superior status of self but by sacrificial service to others. That’s what it means to be a servant leader - to follow the example he left us of service and sacrifice.

Christian leadership is not about being ambitious. It’s not about vying for positions of prominence and power, like James and John. It’s not about status in society or in the church. Christian leadership is about stooping lower in the kingdom of this world in order to be higher in Christ’s kingdom.

Jesus values lowly service and self-sacrifice for those are the characteristics of his own life. So, to the extent that you demonstrate servanthood, humility, and sacrificial living, to that extent you are “living Christ”; to that extent you are modelling his paradoxical paradigm of true leadership. And that’s what he has called us to!

Is that true in your life as a Christian leader? Are you modelling Jesus’ paradigm of upside-down-leadership in the way you speak, act, relate to other, lead other? Can others see by the way you lead, that you want to serve them as Christ did his disciples  in order to enhance their lives and ministries?

So now, in parts 1 to 3 of this series on “Biblical Models of Christian Leadership”, we have examined the principle, the paradigm and the paradox of servant leadership. In part 4 of this series, we will complete this study by looking at the practice and the purpose of servant leadership.

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Biblical Models Of Christian Leadership, Part 4 - The Servant Model (3)

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The Servant Model Of Christian Leadership (Continued, part 3)

So far in this series on “Biblical Models of Christian Leadership”, we have considered the following:

Part 1: “The Shepherd Model of Leadership”

Section A. The Principle of Shepherd Leadership

Section B. The Paradigm of Shepherd Leadership

Part 2: “The Servant Model of Leadership”

Section A. The Principle of Servant Leadership

Section B. The Paradigm of Servant Leadership

Part 3: “The Servant Model of Leadership” (continued)

Section C: The Paradox of Servant Leadership

Now, we continue with Part 4, “The Servant Model of Leadership”, Section D…

D. The Practice Of Servant Leadership

The apostle Paul taught and practised servant leadership: “But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things. Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? (2 Cor. 11:6-7). The apostle Peter also taught and practiced the same paradigm of leadership: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:2-6).

Note that gentleness and humility are characteristics of true servant leaders. Similarly, this was the paradigm that Jesus practised. We see this clearly in John 13:1-17…

Textual Study: John 13:1-17

“The Practice Of Servant Leadership Demonstrated”

The Upper Room ministry of John chapters 13 - 17 is directed to the inner circle of disciples, in contrast to the earlier chapters which were directed to the world at large. The occasion was the eating of the Passover and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Not only did Jesus give them the pattern for remembering him after his ascension, but now he sets before them the pattern for living together as a body of believers.

It’s as though the apostle John comes to the window of the Upper Room and invites us to climb up a ladder and eavesdrop on what is going on inside, to witness the greatest illustration of servanthood that we will ever experience and to teach us that because Jesus is the perfect servant, our service to one another must find its character in His servanthood.

There are three components to this lesson on servanthood:

I. We must understand the basis of true servanthood

II. We must demonstrate the character of true servanthood

III. We must imitate the nature of true servanthood

I. We Must Understand The Basis Of True Servanthood (1-3)

In order for us to demonstrate and imitate true servanthood we must firstly understand the basis of all true servanthood. Verses 1-3 are fundamental to our understanding of what follows. Here, John depicts a striking contrast between Jesus’ consciousness of who He is and the position of servanthood that He takes. The consciousness of who He is makes His subsequent action so remarkable. Jesus, the sovereign Lord, becomes their servant. First, we must understand, then, that …

1. The Basis Of True Servanthood Is The Confidence That Comes From Knowledge

It’s the knowledge of who we are, where we came from, and where we are going that generates the confidence to practise servanthood. That is evidently the basis of Jesus’ act of servanthood here in our passage.

First, the knowledge of where we are going and how we’re getting there. Jesus knew that his hour had come (1a). This was His predestined moment. This isn’t a fact that suddenly dawned upon Jesus. He had known it long before this Feast of Passover. It was in the full knowledge of this fact that he approached the Passover week. And it was in this full knowledge of where that hour would lead him that he demonstrates to us his perfect servanthood. Earlier Jesus had said: My hour has not yet come (2:4). No external power could coerce Him into any act until the appointed time. “They sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him because His hour had not yet come” (Jn. 7:30; see also 8:20). And no external power could hinder Him from the act when the time came: “Now is my soul troubled and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (Jn. 12:27). When the bell tolled, he was ready and willing to go forward.

Now He knew that His hour had come (13:1; 12:23; 17:1), the hour to which He was destined and for which He had come to earth. Though the hour held such horror, yet it also spoke of a strange triumph. On the one hand, this was the hour for Him to go to the cross – that was the issue at hand - but on the other hand, this was the hour to leave the world behind. He knew that the issue of the hour was the cross and the destiny of the hour was to depart from this world to the Father (1b). The Father had sent him into the world (1 Jn. 4:9). Now he would complete his mission in fulfillment of his destiny and depart from this world to the Father by way of the cross. He knew that the Father had laid on Him the task of effecting salvation’s plan with all the suffering that that involved.

But it was the inner conviction of what lay beyond the cross, of where he was going, from which He derived peace and stability of mind and from which He derived a perfect perspective on what he had to do while in the world. That’s what formed the basis of this infinite expression of love and humility. He had the conviction that beyond death lay the resurrection; beyond the cross lay the crown; beyond Golgotha lay glory; beyond condescension was the ascension. We are gripped here by the consciousness of the task before Him blended with the thrill of going back to the Father. There is a shrinking back yet an air of eagerness; the terror of death but the boldness of life; the sorrow of separation but the joy of reunion; the fear of death but the anticipation of resurrection; a sense of humiliation but hope of glory.

If we have this same confidence based on the knowledge of where we’re going and how we’re getting there, then that for us would also form the basis of our attitude and acts of servanthood. When we look beyond the here-and-now to what will be, then we gain a totally different perspective on life – of where we’re going and how we’re getting there. As Christians we need to remember that we’re going to heaven and we get there by way of the cross. Before we wear a crown we’re called to suffer with Christ. Before we reign with the King we’re called to serve Him.

Often people don’t want to be servants in attitude and action. Perhaps it’s because they have a worldly perspective. The world looks down on servants but honours those who rule – that’s a worldly perspective. The world expects you to strive for a higher social standing than a servant, to be ambitious, to make something of yourself – that’s a worldly perspective.

Or, perhaps people don’t want to be servants because of pride. They see themselves as good as or better than other people. They consider lowly positions and lowly actions as demeaning and embarrassing – it’s beneath them. If you remember where you’re going and how you’re getting there, then that knowledge gives you the confidence to be a servant in attitude and action.

Not only do we need the confidence that comes from the knowledge of where we are going and how we’re getting there, but we need …

Secondly, the knowledge of who we are and how we fit in. “(Jesus knew) that the Father had given all things into His hands (3a). This was His predestined position – the position of universal sovereignty; a position conferred on Him by His Father. He was fully aware of his heavenly destiny and His appointed position of sovereignty. And all of this only serves to highlight the greatness of the act of servanthood that He is about to do - something that will imprint on the disciples’ hearts an indelible impression of that sovereignty and destiny.

“All things” means universal and absolute dominion. Jesus knew that He was God’s one and only, eternal Son; that His Father had appointed Him “heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2); that universal sovereignty had been conferred on him by his Father; that His Father had now given all things into His hands.”

This sovereignty means that He is Lord of all – Lord of lords; King of kings. There is no one higher than He in power and authority. He has the right and power to demand compliance and submission to His authority. As such, all judgement has been committed to Him (Jn. 5:22) so that, ultimately, all honour will be ascribed to Him (Jn. 5:23). And in the final day, every knee will bow… (Phil. 2:11-12). Even those who die in unbelief will then confess His lordship and sovereignty.

Jesus knew who he was and how he fit into the eternal plans and purposes of God and he acted accordingly. And we need that same knowledge to act accordingly – the knowledge of who we are and how we fit into God’s plans and purposes. If you see who you are in God’s eyes, then that changes your perspective on what you do for God and how you do it. If you can see that you are God’s beloved child; that you are his redeemed possession; that you are loved by God unconditionally in Christ; that Jesus is even now preparing a place for us in heaven; that one day the world will acknowledge the lordship of our Saviour and bow at his feet; that you will reign with Christ, then that changes how you act now. That gives you the confidence to take the low place now in view of the high place to come. That replaces your view of the short term with a view of the long term. That means that it doesn’t matter what people think of you. It’s what God thinks of you that counts. If you know that you’re a child of the King, it doesn’t matter if people despise you for being a servant. It’s the perspective and confidence in who we are that empowers us to live for God in the attitude of servanthood.

In addition to the knowledge of where we are going (and how we’re getting there), of who we are in Christ (and how we fit into God’s plans), we also need …

Thirdly, the knowledge of where we have come from and why we’re here. (Jesus knew) that he had come from God and was going to God (3b). Jesus knew fully his heavenly origin to which he was returning. As to where He had come from, He said: “I proceeded forth and came from God” (8:42). This refers to his eternal existence prior to his incarnation. This is He who “in the beginning…was with God and (who) was God” (Jn. 1:1). This is the One who enjoyed a glory with the Father “before the world was” (Jn. 17:5).

As to where he was returning, He said: “I go to Him who sent me” (7:33). “I am going away…Where I go you cannot come…You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (Jn. 8:21-23). He knew where He had come from, why he was here, and where he was going. “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. And again, I leave the world and go to the Father” (16:28).

Jesus was fully conscious of His divine nature and mission and what that mission entailed – namely, that the way back to God was by way of the cross. Jesus’ knowledge of who He was, where He came from, and where He was going formed the basis for the certainty and confidence of his actions. Knowing that He had come from God and was going to God – what did He do? Did He flash His power? Show his majesty? Demand subservience? No! In the full consciousness of who He was, He took the position of a servant! Taking a servant’s place was of no concern to Him because washing his disciples’ feet didn’t impact his dignity; because servanthood didn’t demean his self esteem.

We, too, derive our confidence for service from knowledge - the knowledge of who we are in Christ, where we are going, what we mean to God. Lack of knowledge and confidence in God can paralyze us. Pride rears its ugly head and service becomes too lowly for us, below our dignity. Fear causes us to draw back: “I can’t do that; I’m not good enough.” Confidence in the knowledge of where we have come from, where we are going, and who we are in Christ is vital for the practice of servanthood.

A. W. Tozer once said: “The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather, he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself nothing; in God everything.”

Not only is the basis of true servanthood the confidence that comes from knowledge, but also …

2. The Basis Of True Servanthood Is The Motivation That Comes From Love

The motivation that comes from love is shown in the object of that love: … having loved his own (1c). True servanthood expresses itself in a love that flows out to others. Previously, His own were the Jewish people who did not receive him (Jn.1:11). But in his remaining hours, he came to those who did recognise and receive him. It is they who are now called his own (13:1).

“His own” here are His disciples, the believers in the new community of faith; those on whom He had set His love in a special way; those who left all and followed Him; and, in a certain sense, all those who would in the ages to come believe in Him and to whom his love flows out in abundance.

“His own” here are these poor men, who cleave to His strength in all their weakness; who seek His glory in all their shame; who thirst for His holiness in all their sin. The universal love of Christ falls with special sweetness on those who are His own. He has a special nearness to those who love Him. He has special delight in those who resemble Him. He has special tenderness toward those who serve Him. His love flows out to every creature. But to those who dwell in His love, He discloses the secrets of His heart.

The motivation that comes from love is shown in the object of that love. And …

The motivation that comes from love is shown in the extent of that love: “… having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them to the end (1d). True servanthood expresses itself in a love that sacrifices all for others. Having loved, He loves. What He had begun, He continues. This is the perfect consistency of His divine nature – He does not change. His is not a fickle love but an enduring love. Those on whom He set His love, He continues to love. There is no exhaustion in that great stream of love that pours from His heart; no lessening or abating or diminution in its flow. Nothing can extinguish the fire that is in His heart. He pours His love out and yet its source is inexhaustible.

This was the appropriate time to manifest his love and He did so to the end.” All that follows (the foot washing, the farewell address, the high-priestly prayer, the crucifixion) is the expression of this “love motive” in operation.

To love “to the end” has a double meaning here. Literally, it means that He loved His own to His death – i.e. to the end of His life. But it also means that He loved them completely, to the uttermost. It means that his love is absolutely without reserve, nothing held back. His love does not stop even in the shadow of the cross. He loves his own unconditionally and equally, without distinction or respect of persons; without regard for race, colour, creed, position, power, or possessions. He loves us regardless of the response from those who are loved.

Earlier, Jesus had said: “Now is my soul troubled…save me from this hour?” (Jn. 12:27). A little later he had said: “Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me (Matt. 26:39). Now, writing after the event, John says: “He loved them to the end. Despite His pleas for deliverance He saw it through. Despite these men being ambitious, proud men (Lk. 22:24), who were more interested in ruling the kingdom than in serving in the world, who did not grasp that greatness is measured in terms of serving, not ruling, Jesus loved them to perfection. Despite Judas being a traitor, “The devil having already put it into the heart of Judas…to betray him” (2), Jesus loved them to the end.

Everything about Judas was the antithesis of Jesus. John here sets the two in stark juxtaposition: Jesus’ love and Judas’ hatred. Everything about this man was the exact opposite of servanthood and humility. He was driven by greed and notoriety (see 12:4-6 re his greed). He was bent on profiting from his association with Jesus, even if it meant betraying Him. And Jesus even washed his feet too! Why does John include this remark about Judas here? Because this reference to Judas makes Jesus’ deed stand in its true greatness. No wonder John could say He loved them to the end / to perfection.”

For Jesus, loving “to the end” meant laying down His life for people who didn’t know him and didn’t care about him. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). But Christ gave His life for us when we were His enemies: Perhaps for a good man some would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8). Christ’s love was a sacrificial love: “By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16).

The greatest of all love is to give one’s life for another. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). In His grace He left the riches of heaven to come to the poverty of earth. In His grace He became flesh and dwelled among us and took the “form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). In His grace He manifested the love of God to us by dying on the cross so that we might be “rich” through the gift of eternal life.

Conclusions (Point I):

True servanthood finds its roots in (1) the confidence that comes from knowledge; and (2) the motivation that comes from love. In this, the servanthood of Jesus was both revealed and magnified because the great events before him did not totally occupy his attention. He knew what lay before Him and He could have been totally preoccupied with that prospect. He “knew his hour had come”. He could have focused only on what was ahead but He set all that aside for this moment of devoted and humble service, because He didn’t have to demonstrate such humility, for He knew that He was God’s only begotten Son; He knew that He was going back to the Father; He knew that the men to whom He displayed his love were the most undeserving. They were more concerned about their own welfare than His. They were more interested in power than in service.

Jesus’ servanthood is the pattern, the model, for our practice - a pattern of love for those He served and confidence in God for the future.

Remember that confidence for service comes from God, not ourselves. Ulrich Zwingli, the great Reformer, once said: “Our confidence in Christ does not make us lazy, negligent or careless, but on the contrary it awakens us, urges us on, and makes us active in living righteous lives and doing good. There is no self-confidence to compare with this.”

And remember that motivation for service comes from love, not ambition - love for God and others. Jesus loved His own to the “uttermost”. “So” John says, “we ought also to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn. 4:16). How is your love level for the people of God? Perhaps you don’t want to serve others because you’re too busy, or because you don’t feel it’s your responsibility, or because someone in the church hasn’t been very nice to you. Remember that Jesus served in spite of being busy, and in spite of knowing that one of his disciples was a traitor.

Or, perhaps you don’t want to serve others because you think you’re not good enough or you think that you’re inadequate or unqualified. Some people think they have nothing to offer in service to the Lord. But many Christians who consider themselves unfit and feel that they have nothing to offer have, in fact, great potential for ministering to others.

Final challenge: May the example of the Lord Jesus Christ spur us on to greater acts of sacrificial service for him and for others. And may we act in the full knowledge of who we are in Christ and where we’re going and in the power of love that serves regardless of the cost. That’s true servanthood.

So, we’ve seen in vv. 1-3 that “We must understand the basis of true servanthood.” Now we see that …

II. We Must Demonstrate The Character Of True Servanthood (4-11)

“Don’t just stand there, do something!” That’s a saying we’ve all heard. Perhaps we’ve even been the object of the injunction. That’s what Jesus is saying here. It isn’t enough just to know and agree with the notion of servanthood or to recognize the need for servants. Jesus is teaching that we must do it! Don’t just talk about it. Don’t just try to recruit others. Just do it!

So many things get done and nobody knows who did it - no recognition; no publicity; no fanfare. They just do it. That’s how servanthood should be demonstrated. Teaching about it is good. Training people to do it is good. But actually doing it is best. That’s what Jesus is teaching here.

John’s account of this Upper Room scene is so informative. He describes fully the basis of Jesus’ servanthood (1-3) as:

1. Jesus’ confidence for servanthood. Confidence in the knowledge of who He was, where He had come from, and where He was going.

2. Jesus’ motivation for servanthood. Motivation for His sacrificial love - love that was directed towards “His own”.

Now, Jesus acts out this wonderful parable for his disciples - a parable of his humiliation and suffering for their cleansing and redemption. This enacted parable has two parts to it:

1. Jesus demonstrates his servant character by washing their feet

2. Jesus teaches the ramifications of servanthood for them to follow

This passage teaches us that our service to one another must be modelled after Jesus’ perfect servanthood. Jesus has shown us the basis for true servanthood. Now he demonstrates the character of true servanthood.

1. The Character Of True Servanthood Is Demonstrated In The Way We Present Ourselves To Others (4).

The washing of feet would naturally and normally take place at the beginning of supper. After walking from Bethany, their feet would have been dirty. The host would normally see that the feet were washed by a servant. It was a menial task. But here there is no servant and none of the disciples was willing to do it. They were all too proud and one was too greedy. All the supplies were ready (the basin, water, towel), but no one was willing to administer it. Each evidently hoped that one of the others would move first. But such was not to be. So, “Jesus rose from supper and laid aside His garments and took a towel and girded himself” (4). Jesus lays aside his outer, flowing garment (tunic and belt) so that he is wearing nothing but a loin-cloth and a long towel tied around his waist. The picture John paints here is the dress of a slave!

Jesus took more than just the dress of a slave. For he “emptied himself, taking the form of a bondservantand... humbled himself” (Phil. 2:6-8). Jesus voluntarily gave up His personal and official glory and He became a bondservant of God, taking on the likeness of men. And He paid the ultimate price for his servanthood, even death on a cross. Jesus presented himself in such a way as to be wholly a servant to men and to God. He even removed any clothing that would get in the way of serving others.

In this way, we must present ourselves so as to better serve others, whether that means stripping off the outer “garments” of pride, ego, selfishness that focus on self not others. Or, whether that means judging favouritism that serves one person but not another. Or, whether that means getting rid of character flaws such as envy, jealousy, covetousness, resentment, bitterness, discontent, vanity. We need to get rid of those garments that hold us in bondage - those chains that bind us and stop us from serving Christ. “Let us lay aside every weight” (Heb. 12:1). Let us cast aside anything that weighs us down and prevents us from serving God and others. Let us demonstrate our servanthood in how we present ourselves to others. Not as someone who is superior to others; not taking the top spot in the pecking order, but at the lowest place. Not seeking to be served but to serve. Not participating in only the things that bring reward and recognition but in the things that are unseen, unrecognized, unrewarded.

The character of true servanthood is demonstrated in how we present ourselves to others. And …

2. The Character Of True Servanthood Is Demonstrated In The Things We Do For Others (5).

He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded” (5). Not only is he dressed as a slave but he now performs the duty of a slave.

That Jesus would perform the task himself must have been most astonishing. But the lesson is obvious: in the kingdom of God the roles are reversed. “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves” (Lk. 22:27).

Someone has said: “We must realize that the symbol of Christianity is not a beautiful polished cross, but a lopsided, crude, splintery cross over which is draped a towel – not the plush kind of towel we buy for our guest bathroom, but a dirty old rag, wet with the sweat and dirt of men’s feet.”

If we are going to be the kind of servants that Jesus was, we must mould our behaviour accordingly. This means that we will have to behave like a servant by doing what a servant does - washing people’s feet; doing things for others that we find repulsive.

True servanthood is demonstrated in the things we do for other              . One whose actions reflect the love of Christ to those they serve. One whose service for others reveals the power of God in their life. One whose pride and attitude doesn’t get in the way.

So, here was the sovereign Lord of the universe washing His disciples’ feet, doing for them what they would not do for each other. He who had His own feet bathed by Mary’s perfume now assumes the lowest position among them and washes the disciples’ feet.

This is one of the marks of Jesus’ greatness. His greatness was in His person, not just His power. His greatness was in His passion, not just His performance. His greatness was in His manner, not just His miracles. His greatness was in His testimony, not just His title.

If you want to be great for God, it doesn’t come from power, position, or possessions. It comes from your person, your passion to serve Christ.

First, then, the character of true servanthood is demonstrated in the way we present ourselves to others. Second, the character of true servanthood is demonstrated in the things we do for others. And…

3. The Character Of True Servanthood Is Demonstrated In The Manner We Relate To Others (6-11)

How should we relate to others? What does Jesus teach us here?

First, we should relate to others by being courteous to those who oppose us (6-8). Only Simon Peter’s reaction is recorded here. Perhaps the others were perplexed or, at least, ashamed that Jesus was doing for them what they should have been doing for each other. Peter, as usual, could not keep quiet. “Lord, are you washing my feet?” (6). He sees the abnormality of what is happening and he is shocked. The Lord of glory on the one hand and Peter’s dirty feet on the other. It was bad enough for him seeing his Master wash the feet of the others, but the idea of Jesus washing his feet was intolerable. Such an act of humiliation for Peter’s physical comfort was too much. Perhaps he is also embarrassed to admit his need and so he resists, unwilling to submit to Jesus’ better judgement. In any event, by objecting to what Jesus is doing, Peter displays his ignorance. He fails to understand that what Jesus is doing has a deeper significance. He doesn’t see that Jesus is teaching them that the servanthood He is displaying is exactly what they must practice in order to live together as believers. That foot washing is symbolic of the daily sanctification that they need. That daily sanctification comes only through His blood shed on the cross.

“What I am doing you do not know now, but you will understand after this” (7), Jesus says. Jesus saw the whole picture; Peter didn’t. “You do not know now means “you can’t figure it out mentally at the present time. “But you will understand after this means after Jesus’ death and resurrection; after his ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. “Then, you will understand the significance of this foot washing and, indeed, of my entire work of humiliation,” Jesus is saying.

Peter bluntly responds to Jesus: “You shall never wash my feet” (8a). Peter sees the incongruity of the Master washing the disciples’ feet but he does not see the incongruity of a disciple telling his Lord what to do. Jesus had contrasted between their not understanding “now” vs. their understanding “after this”. To this Peter replies: “I don’t care when that time of understanding arrives, you will never wash my feet. No, not in all eternity! Never in a million years, Jesus!” Peter doesn’t stop to think about what he is saying or who he is speaking to. He is absolutely sure he is right and yet so absolutely ignorant. He is so totally unaware of his pride and self-righteousness. If only he had known what he was objecting to – i.e. the whole notion of true and proper servanthood; his innate need for daily, spiritual cleansing through the work of Christ.

Notice Jesus’ courteous rebuke: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me” (8b). Peter’s feet needed to be washed not only to be socially acceptable for dinner but also for his personality to be symbolically washed and fit for the kingdom. It was intended to make the disciples fit for Jesus’ presence, to wash them from the defilement of the world and to draw them parabolically into His humiliation and suffering.

Our attitude towards others reveals our heart. Negative attitudes hold us back from serving Christ – be it cynicism (the contempt of others); scepticism (distrusting everyone and everything, suspicious, thinking that only our opinion has value); pessimism (never seeing any hope, future, or anything positive in life); criticism (putting others down in order to puff ourselves up); harshness, bluntness, insensitivity to the feelings of others.

Positive attitudes motivate us to be like Christ; to walk as Jesus walked in unselfishness and humility; in contentment with your lot in life; in courtesy towards those who argue and oppose us; in patience with those who rub us the wrong way. The only way we can effectively relate to others as Christ did is to be a consummate servant.

The church needs those with the attitude of second violin players. Those who work behind the scenes, in lowly positions. Those who are willing and happy to serve unseen and unpaid. Those who act in obedience to God expecting nothing from man in return. Those who relate courteously to others even when they oppose us.

How, then, should we relate to others? We should relate to others by being courteous to those who oppose us. And…

Secondly, we should relate to others by being patient with those who don’t understand us (9-11).               Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head (9), Peter responds. Peter had completely misunderstood the symbolic meaning of foot-washing. In typical fashion, he goes from one extreme to the other, just as he did when he went from walking on water to sinking beneath the waves; from a glorious confession of Christ to rebuking Christ; from vowing to lay down his life for Jesus to denying him ; from embracing the Gentiles at Antioch to separating from them.

The amount of physical washing isn’t the point. The external washing symbolises something inward. And so, Jesus patiently explains: He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet (10a). Notice the distinction between bathed and washed”. The literal meaning is this: When a person leaves home having already had a bath, upon arrival at their destination he or she does not need to have another bath. All that is needed then is to wash their feet after the journey.

The symbolic and spiritual meaning is this: The one who has been cleansed by Jesus’ blood (i.e. “bathed”) is fully forgiven, washed whiter than snow, regenerate, born again, renewed by the Spirit. This only occurs once at the moment of new birth, the beginning of the Christian life. There is nothing more to be done. They are clean all over except for the need of daily sanctification (i.e. foot washing), except for the daily cleansing from the defilement of this world.

Just as in the custom of actual foot washing, so also in the symbolic sense, only the feet need to be repeatedly washed. We don’t need a new birth over and over but we do need washing from daily sin. Thus, John says: “If we confess our sins…faithful…to forgive us…cleanse us” (1 Jn. 1:9). And Jesus declares: You are clean…” (i.e. “you are redeemed”) but not all of you. For he knew who would betray him. Therefore he said, You are not all clean (10b-11). Judas was not spiritually clean.

Look what Jesus’ patient explanation has taught us:

1. That we never have to repeat the process of being born again. Once we are truly saved we are always saved. We never have to worry about losing our salvation if we are truly born again.

2. That the washing of feet symbolizes the need for daily cleansing. The washing away of sins in the blood of Christ is a once forever experience (1 Jn.1:7). Then believers need only to be cleansed from the daily defilement of the world. This is His continued sanctifying work on our behalf. This is the “washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26).

How much dirt have you picked up recently? Just as the first century roads were dusty and dirty, so our world is a dirty place; it is spiritually corrupt and defiling. We live in a dirty, corrupt world where, every day, we see and hear things that defile us and affect our walk with God. Perhaps you’ve been to places on the internet you shouldn’t have been. Perhaps you’ve watched a movie you shouldn’t have watched. Perhaps you’ve seen something on TV you didn’t turn off when knew you should. Satan wants to rob us of our enjoyment of Christ by defiling our thoughts, trapping us in sin, attracting us to “the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn. 2:16).

We need to acknowledge our sins to God as soon as we’re aware of them. We need to keep short accounts with God. We need to be aware of what sin is before God and deal with it immediately, whether it be short patience, a wrong attitude, unkind words, disobedience etc. We need to take time to let the Holy Spirit cleanse our minds, hearts, consciences and lives. We need to allow Him to sanctify our “spiritual feet” so that we are cleansed anew each day; so that our communion with God continues unbroken; so that we have the promise and the sense of Jesus’ presence daily with us.

Conclusions (Point II)
1. True Servants Present Themselves So That They Demonstrate Jesus’ Servanthood

The true servant takes the low place to serve others in their highest interest. The true servant isn’t ashamed to present himself as a servant. Taking the low place isn’t objectionable to him. Humility doesn’t challenge his or her self esteem. Pride doesn’t get in the way. The true servant is prepared to present himself in whatever way it takes. Anything that would hinder acting in Christ-like service is set aside. Paul says: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win the Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under law toward Christ,) that I might win those who are without law; to the weak became I as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel's sake” (1 Cor 9:20-23).

2. True Servants Behave Themselves So That They “Walk As Jesus Walked” (1 Jn. 2:6).

Sometimes acting as servants of Christ means going out of our comfort zone, finding ourselves in situations that are embarrassing or instil fear. But the true servant considers serving others as service for the Lord. Donald Whitney, in his book “Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life,” writes, “Beyond the church walls, serving is babysitting for neighbours, taking meals to families in flux, running errands for the homebound, providing transportation for the one whose car breaks down, feeding pets and watering plants for vacationers, and – hardest of all – having a servant’s heart” (110-111).

3. How We Relate To Others Indicates Whether We Have Jesus’ Servant Heart

It’s hard to be courteous to those who are argumentative. It’s hard to be patient with those who just don’t get what we’re saying and who outright oppose us. But when we demonstrate the attitude that Jesus had, we can win their hearts and in so doing we serve Christ.

Final challenge: Do you have a servant’s heart? Are you willing to serve? More particularly, are you actually serving others without recognition? Don’t just give lip service to it. Don’t say you’re willing if you won’t do it. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22-25). A true servant is one who not only has a heart for service but one who is actively engaged in service.

In this textual study so far, Jesus has shown us that…

I. We must understand the basis of true servanthood (1-3). The basis of true servanthood is (1) the confidence that comes from knowledge; and (2) the motivation that comes from love.

II. We must demonstrate the character of true servanthood (4-11). We demonstrate the character of true servanthood in (1) the way we present ourselves to others; (2) the things we do for others; and (3) the manner we relate to others.

Now the third lesson in this passage…

III. We Must Imitate The Nature Of True Servanthood (12-17)

Now, Jesus resumes His former position among the disciples and begins to teach them the implications of what he has just enacted. This enacted parable teaches us that our service to one another must be modelled after Jesus’ perfect servanthood.

To most people the connotation of “servant” is negative. It connotes lowliness, downtrodden, menial tasks, no future, low pay. Our culture looks up to those who make lots of money, have prominent positions. In our society those in leadership are regarded as powerful, prestigious. But the Bible paints a different picture of what effective Christian leadership really is. It indicates that the most effective leaders have the attitude of a servant.

The words “servant” and “leader” don’t go together in the contemporary mindset. It rubs us the wrong way. In one way, it doesn’t make sense. And yet in another way we fully understand it. For example, when someone does an heroic act (e.g. saves a person from drowning) the world honours that person. Why? Because they risked their life for someone else. They put the other person’s interests above their own and they took leadership, initiative. That, in fact, is the definition of a servant even though in that context we don’t think of it that way.

Taking the initiative to serve others in their highest interest is true “servant leadership”. We may understand what servanthood is and we may try to demonstrate it, but how do we know if what we are doing is right? How do we know if we are demonstrating the proper attitudes and behaviour?

So much of our behaviour and attitudes are learned. Have you ever stopped to think how much of what you do and think is based on imitating someone or something else - such as parents, teachers, pastors, friends, TV, newspapers, books?

The only way we can be sure that our servant attitude and behaviour is correct is by imitating Jesus Christ. How, then, do we imitate the nature of true servanthood?

1. We Imitate The Nature Of True Servanthood By Remembering That The Lord Is Our Master (12-13,16).

“Do you know what I have done to you? Jesus asks (12). “Do you know that this isn’t about washing actual dirt from your feet? Do you grasp the practical teaching of what I have just done?”

Jesus has become a slave, taken the lowest place, a picture of what he is about to do at the cross. They too are to take the low place in identification with Him and in serving one another. You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for that is what I am (13). They were right in addressing him as “teacher and Lord (7:15, 46; Matt. 7:29). That was who He was and that was who they served – the Lord God.

They recognized in Him a paradox. On the one hand, they had seen Him perform miracles and heard Him speak words of warning, words of hope, life, comfort, and love, all of which was poured out in a life of service. On the other hand, they had seen his life of service that, paradoxically, confirmed His lordship and authority.

In serving we must remember: The Lord is our Master. That is what He is, “Lord”. Whether we acknowledge it or not, He is Lord! Seated at the right hand of God in the majesty on high. He is the sovereign Ruler of the universe. C. H. Spurgeon said: “If any man would be saved, he must believe that Jesus Christ is both Lord and God. You must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, that is Ruler and Master. You must cheerfully become His disciple, follower and servant.”

The Lordship of Christ is not an option. Jesus told his disciples that Lordship was His rightful title and position and that they were His “servants”. You don’t decide to make Jesus Lord of your life. When He becomes your Saviour, He also becomes your Lord. John MacArthur says: “Scripture never speaks of anyone making Christ Lord… The biblical mandate for both sinners and saints is not to make Christ Lord, but rather to bow to His lordship” (Gospel According To Jesus).

Jesus is Lord because He is supreme. He is “God manifest in the flesh” – deity incarnate. He is the “firstborn”, the pre-eminent one, the first in rank and priority. There is none greater, no greater Saviour. No one else compares with Him. He is unique – no one else like Him.

Jesus is Lord because He rose from the dead. He is supreme in resurrection. He is the first to rise from the dead who will never die: Behold I am alive forevermore” (Rev. 1:18).

Jesus is Lord of all the universe. All things were made by Him, for Him, and through Him (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16). By Him all things hold together and He existed before all things. That’s why He could heal the sick, give sight to the blind etc. He has power over creation because He created it. He is the Lord of all the universe.

Jesus is Lord of the church. He died to redeem the church of which He is the head (Eph. 5:25; Col.1:18).

The question is: “Is Jesus Lord and Master of your life?” Does He own you? Are you His disciple? Do you serve him? The Bible makes no distinction between receiving Him as Saviour or Lord. He is both and He can only be received as both. Don’t think that you can have Him as your Saviour and not submit to him as Lord. To receive Him is to receive Him for who He is and what He has done. When you receive Christ as Saviour you want to obey Him because He has saved you from your sins, because He has given you eternal life, because He is Lord of your life by virtue of redemption.

A servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him (16). As servants we are expected to obey and follow our Master.

We imitate true servanthood by remembering that the Lord is our Master. Therefore, we must not place ourselves above Him for we are His servants. If it wasn’t below Jesus’ dignity to wash the disciples’ feet, it shouldn’t be below the servant’s dignity. Don’t think that it is below you to do menial tasks for others. It doesn’t matter what your position is in the church or in the world. We are here to serve our Master and servanthood is the required attitude.

So, how do we imitate the nature of true of true servanthood? We imitate the nature of true servanthood by remembering that the Lord is our Master. And…

2. We Imitate The Nature Of True Servanthood By Doing For Each Other What Jesus Has Done For Us (14-15)

If I, then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (14). Jesus is saying, “If I, the Sovereign of the universe, take the lowest place of a servant (and I certainly have), then you ought also to take the low place.” For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you (15).

This is not a command to obey but an example to follow. Jesus is not prescribing an outward rite but an inner attitude - an attitude of humility and service; an attitude that He has acted out symbolically.

Jesus implies here that we have two obligations. Firstly, to serve one another in love (Gal. 5:13). Secondly, to minister to one another by cleaning one another’s spiritual feet. Matt. 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him. Gal. 6:1, “If a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a person in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. James 5:16, “Confess your sins one to another and pray for one another.

If the Sovereign Lord became a Servant and washed and dried their feet, how much more ought we to render such service to one another by stripping ourselves of everything that hinders service; by taking the lowest place in order to serve others in their highest interest. Remember: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). Anyone who wants to be first, “must be servant of all” (Mk. 9:35).

We live in a self-serving world. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes. They do their own thing. Everyone looks on his own things, not on the things of others (see Phil. 2:4). It’s a “dog-eat-dog” world. Nobody cares about anyone else. It’s a narcissistic, hedonistic world. Men are egocentric not theocentric. They are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4).

If you want to be great in the kingdoms of this world, then reach for the top, tread on people on the way up, be ambitious, just like the disciples who argued about who would be the greatest. But if you want to be great in the kingdom of God, do for others what Jesus has done for you - take the lowest place in serving others in their highest interest.

God does not deal in hierarchies. The corporate ladder of success means nothing to God. Jesus defined greatness in terms of sacrificial service: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn. 12:25). The one who “loves his life” is the person who is self-centred, selfish, greedy. He is the one who desires to be served and in the end he will lose everything – everything he has ever attempted to gain for himself in this world. The person who “hates his life” is the one who puts others first. He is the one who desires to serve others at the basis of their need. He is the one who abandons self-advancement in this world to gain advancement in the kingdom of God and, in the end, this person gains everything – eternal life!

Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Anyone can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve… You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Richard Foster puts it into perspective: “In some ways we would prefer to hear Jesus’ call to deny father and mother, houses and land for the sake of the gospel, than His word to wash feet. Radical self-denial gives the feel of adventure. If we forsake all, we even have the chance of glorious martyrdom. But in service we are banished to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial” (Spiritual Disciplines, 110).

So, how do we imitate the nature of true of true servanthood? We imitate the nature of true servanthood (1) by remembering that the Lord is our Master; (2) by doing for each other what Jesus has done for us. And …

3. We Must Imitate The Nature Of True Servanthood By Practising What We Preach (17)

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (17). It isn’t enough to teach these things or just to give mental assent to them. We must go out and “just do it!” Happiness is found in being “doers of the Word” not just “hearers”. Happiness results from doing what Jesus did, not just learning about it. It isn’t enough to hear and agree; you must do it. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). “The man who hears these words of mine and does them is like the wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:24). “Faith without works is dead” (James 1:22-27; 2:14-26).

Modelling truth far outweighs preaching it. God hasn’t called all of us to be preachers, but He has called all of us to be servants. We can preach all we want about the Word of God and the Christian life but if we don’t practise it why would anyone believe what we say? When we practise what we preach, we receive God’s blessing. Not necessarily in this world but certainly in the next where it really counts. Not necessarily in material blessings but certainly in spiritual blessings.

Conclusions (Point IIII)
1. The Underlying Lesson Here Is This: “Jesus Is The Example Of True Servanthood, So Our Service To One Another Must Be Modelled After Him.”

Through servanthood we assist others in their Christian life. Through servanthood we demonstrate to unbelievers what the love of God is like.

2. When We Imitate Jesus’ Servanthood, Like Him We Will Be “Servant Leaders”

Jesus did not merely wash the disciples’ feet, but by doing so He also taught them, mentored them, led them by example. In providing for their needs and attending to their highest interest they could do nothing else but follow Him.

3. When We Imitate The Nature Of Jesus’ Servanthood, Others Will Want To Follow Us Too

By serving others in their highest interest we so model the love of Christ that others will want to follow. Jesus’ model of servanthood is the most effective form of leadership there is, whether it be in secular employment, in the home, or in the church.

Are you a servant leader in your office, home, church? The only way to be truly a servant leader is to imitate Christ’s example. He alone was the perfect servant and He not only performed great miracles and demonstrated great power, He also washed His disciples feet. That’s what true Christian leadership is all about – leading by serving. And we only properly serve when we remember that we serve our Lord and Master; when we do for each other what Jesus has done for us; when we practise what we preach.

Final challenge: Don’t think you can be a true servant by doing it your own way!

Christian servanthood isn’t modelled on Frank Sinatra’s premise: “I did it my way”. The only way to be a true Christian servant is to imitate the servanthood of Jesus in what we do and what we think. And if we do, we’ll be happy in the service of Christ without reward and without recognition.

So we have looked at: A. The principle; B. The paradigm; C. The paradox, and D. The Practice of Servant Leadership. Finally, let’s look at…

E. The Purpose Of Servant Leadership

“The purpose of servant leadership is to serve those you lead”

Servant leadership runs contrary to the world’s paradigm for leadership. And yet, in recent years the corporate world has recognized that the old management method of “the boss” telling people what to do (i.e. “lording it over them”; top down management) doesn’t work because it de-motivates, strips people of respect and self worth, destroys initiative etc. That’s why, a few years ago, self-managed work teams became the buzz word and ideology adopted by many corporate management teams. Through a sort of “bottom up management” they found that people were happier with their jobs (because they had a sense of self-control and control over their destiny), and that better decisions were made (because the people actually doing the work had a better job knowledge of what needs to be done, how to fix it etc.).

The purpose of servant leadership is that the leaders serve those they lead. The servant leader does everything he or she can to make the work of their followers more productive, more rewarding, more fruitful. The servant leader’s job “is to work hard to provide others with the resources and working conditions they need to accomplish their ministry goals. They make others feel more important than themselves. They have others’ best interests at heart.” (Malphurs, Dynamics, 46-47).

How do you do this? You do this by...

(1) Making their jobs easier, more efficient, and more fulfilling.

(2) Treating them with dignity and respect (i.e. “esteeming others better than yourself”).

(3) Giving them a sense of importance and self-worth.

(4) Motivating them to take self-responsibility for their work and to do their work with excellence.

(5) Treating them as co-equals before God and members of a team.

(6) Generating in them a desire to also serve others.

(7) Sharing the burden with them (cf. Gal.6:2).

(8) Including them in decision-making.

(9) Providing opportunities for professional development of their skills.

(10) Setting the example in the leader’s own work and work ethic.

The servant leader paradigm sees the leader as “the coach, not the general manager, and certainly not the team owner (Gangel, Feeding & Leading, 57). Gangel quotes the Chinese philosopher Dao Teh Ching, who, five hundred years before the birth of Christ said: “A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when people obey him and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. Fail to honour people, they fail to honour you; but of a good leader, who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’” (Cited in Gangel, 56).

Now, let me bring a little balance to what we have been talking about. “Servant leadership” does not imply an absence of authority. Church leaders are, after all, “overseers” who “manage” the flock, just as a husband and father “manages” his family, his household (1 Tim. 3:4-5). Scripture enjoins us to:

“Remember those who rule over you...” (Heb. 13:7)

“Obey those who rule over you and be submissive...” (Heb. 13:17)

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honour” (1 Tim. 5:17)

“We urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labour over you in the Lord and admonish you and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Thess. 5:12-13)

“The elders who are among you I shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers ...” (1 Pet. 5:1-2)

“Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28)

Servant leadership refers to the attitude of the leader – i.e. “not as being lords over those entrusted” to them (1 Pet. 5:3), not dictators, but rather they are “to be clothed with humility” (1 Pet. 5:5b; Acts 20:19). Remember: The position is leader; the attitude is servant.

Summary Of This Four Part Series On “Biblical Models Of Christian Leadership.”

1. Transformational leaders in God’s kingdom are “shepherd leaders”, shepherding the flock of God through ...

  • Caring spiritually and practically by…

... treating others with tenderness, warmth, and compassion

... treating other with dignity and respect

... giving others a sense of self-worth

... treating them as co-equals before God

... encouraging them

  • Feeding

... with nutritious and life-giving spiritual food

... with opportunities to serve the Lord in the church

... with teaching and training so that others can exercise their God-given gifts for the benefit of all

... providing them with resources for the development of their gifts

... helping them to be more fulfilled in their ministry

  • Protecting

... from spiritual harm and danger

  • Leading

... with vision and courage

... sharing the leadership burden with others

... including them in decision-making

... generating in them a desire to serve others by setting an example yourself

2. Transformational leaders in God’s kingdom are “servant leaders”, serving the people of God sacrificially

… by taking the low place so that others can have a higher place

… by giving up personal ambition so that others may receive a promotion

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors

Psalms Of Protection

Related Media

Several psalms reveal the fact that God is man’s protector. Thus, a Davidic psalm reveals God’s kindness and readiness to protect the believer:

Because of the oppression of the weak
and the groaning of the needy,

I will now arise, says the LORD.
I will protect them from those who malign them. (Ps. 12:5)1

Accordingly, the believer may plead:

O LORD you will keep us safe
and protect us from such people forever. (Ps. 12:7)

Indeed, it is God who protects and preserves the life of his own. David testifies as to God’s protection by saying:

A righteous man may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers from them all;

He protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken. (Ps. 34:20)

So true is this that believers may follow the Lord’s example:

Blessed is he who has regard for the weak,
the LORD delivers him in times of trouble,

The LORD will protect him and preserve his life;
he will bless him in the land
and not surrender him to the desire of his foes. (Ps. 41:1-2)

In many other psalms, we read of the believer’s pleading for God’s protection. For example, we read in the beginning of Psalm 20:

May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. (v.1)

Often God’s protection is encased with other commendable elements. Thus, in Psalm 25:21, a psalm that praises God for his oversight of his people, David says:

May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope is in you.

This Psalm “begins and ends on a note of trust in the Lord” (vv. 1-3, 21) says Van Gemeren.2

In Psalm 40, David speaks of the blessedness of God’s salvation and his proclamation of the same (vv.1-5) and then tells of his personal commitment to the Lord (vv. 6-10). Therefore, due to his many difficulties he goes on to pray:

Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD;
may your love and your truth always protect me. (v. 11)

Similar pleadings are evident in other psalms. In Psalm 64:1, David asks for God’s protection:

Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint;
protect my life from the threat of the enemy. (cf. Ps. 59:1)

David’s earnest plea is also seen in Psalm 69:29:

I am in pain and distress;
may your salvation, O God, protect me.

Indeed, David is well aware of the fact that the Lord is a faithful believer’s source of protection. Therefore, he prays for God’s help:

Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men;
protect me from men of violence.


Keep me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked;
protect me from men of violence,
who plan to trip my feet. (Ps. 140:1,4)

Surely what was true for David ought to be paralleled in the lives of today’s believers!

God’s desire to protect his own is seen in other psalms, as well. Thus, we read in Psalm 91:14-16:

Because he loves me, says the LORD, I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

He will call upon me and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.

With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation.

Such gives full assurance even to today’s believers.

Surely, all faithful believers may attest to the declaration by yet another psalmist:

The LORD is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.

The Lord protects the simplehearted;
when I was in great need, he saved me. (Ps. 116:5-6)

As Van Gemeren remarks: “The psalmist is fully aware that the Lord alone can help him, for he is ‘gracious,’ ‘righteous,’ full of ‘compassion,’ so as to protect … the needy.”3

May each believer follow the advice of many psalmists’ assurance of God’s ability and determination to protect his followers. As David declares,

The Lord loves the just
and will not forsake his faithful ones. (Ps. 37:28)

Therefore, he can advise them:

Wait for the LORD
And keep his way.


And then the salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD;
he is their strong hold in time of trouble.

The LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him. (Ps. 37:34, 39-40)

May each of us follow David’s instructions – even in such matters as our own speech. A familiar proverb points out: “The lips of the wise protect them” (Pr, 14:3b). All of this is in conformity with the assurance of the Lord’s care for the many needs of his own. As Marten, the hymn writer, writes verse 3 of his hymn:

All you may need He will provide, God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied, God will take care of you.
God will take care of you, throu’ every day, o’er all the way;
He will take care of you. God will take care of you.4

1 All Scripture referenced is from the NIV.

2 Willem. A. Van Gemeren, “Psalms” in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, revised edition, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), V:264.

3 IBID, 846.

4 C.D. Marten, “God Will Take Care of You.”

Related Topics: Christian Life, Devotionals

Q. Should One Attend Bible School And/Or Seminary?


The question of whether or not one should attend Bible school and/or seminary is very important. Pursuing this path is demanding. It is challenging. It is costly (in many ways). And income resulting from future ministry may make the repayment of any student loans difficult.

In response, I think that the very first question which you must ask and answer is this: “What is my spiritual gift?”

This passage in 1 Corinthians 12 is foundational (though all of chapters 12-14 and crucial):

Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. (1 Cor. 12:4-7 NET)

We learn here that the entire Trinity is involved in the life and health and growth of the Church, and this is especially evident in the matter of spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit gives every believer one or more spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7, 18). The Lord Jesus directs the believer in terms of where and how their spiritual gifting should be employed for the growth and health of the church. God the Father determines the degree of impact (I dislike the word success) that this gift and ministry will have.

I know that you are eager to discover what place God has for you, but I believe that the first step is to discern what your spiritual gift (or gifts) might be. One has to be very careful here, because we often are tempted to desire and even to seek the spiritual gift which is deemed the most prominent or spiritual by the Christian community. In Corinth, the gift of preference and status was the gift of tongues. It had a more spectacular and sensational appearance, and so everyone wanted it, rather than to seek the better gifts, like prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:12-25). The most important question is, “What is it that God has equipped me to do that edifies and builds up the church?” The big question is not, “How does it make me look?”, or even “How does it make me feel?”, but “How does it bless others and build up the church?”

I would suggest several avenues of pursuit, when seeking to discover and develop your spiritual gift(s):

First, study the Scriptures to learn about spiritual gifts – what they are and how they work. Be careful to distinguish spiritual gifts from natural talents. (These two things – spiritual gifts and natural talents – may be related, but they are not necessarily the same thing.)

Second, do the things which the Bible commands you to do, that you see need doing. We tend to look at the world around us through the lens of our spiritual gift(s), and rightly so. A teacher sees the need for teaching. A helper sees the need for hands-on ministry. A person gifted to give sees the opportunity to share his or her resources to meet the need of another. (This person sees the holes in the soles of the shoes of the one sitting beside him.) It is my contention that the commands of Scripture correspond to various spiritual gifts given to the saints.

Let’s just take a simple example from Scripture:

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all. (1 Thess. 5:14)

The need for admonition (warning) may be best recognized by one with the gift of teaching, and the content of admonition may very well be teaching from Scripture (see Romans 15:14; 1 Corinthians 4:14).

The need for comfort (encouragement) may best be recognized by an encourager or exhorter (see, for example, Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-28; 11:19-26; 15:36-39).

The need for help would be recognized quickly by one gifted to help (Philippians 4:10-20).

So, you discover you are gifted to help as you see the command to help, you see the need for help, and you respond to it in such a way that the person is not merely helped physically, but built up spiritually (2 Corinthians 9:10-15).

I believe that many Christian need all of these ministries at the same time (admonition, encouragement, help), and that is just how the body of Christ should function.

Third, recognize the need and importance of a good church where spiritual gifts are taught and encouraged to flourish.

It is very clear in Scripture that spiritual gifts are not given primarily for the benefit of the individual (gifted) believer, but are for the good of the whole body:

To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. (1 Cor. 12:7)

But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. (1 Cor. 12:18)

What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church. (1 Cor. 14:26)

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men." 9 Now what is the meaning of "he ascended," except that he also descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth? 10 He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. 11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God– a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ's full stature. 14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. (Eph. 4:7-16)

Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God. (1 Pet. 4:10 NET)

The church is absolutely crucial to the discovery and development of one’s spiritual gifting. This assumes that the church actually believes the ministry is much broader than the leading and teaching of one person, a ministry which provides occasions where spiritual gifts can actually be discovered, exercised, and developed. Such a venue is spelled out in 1 Corinthians chapter 14.

It is here that leaders in the church -- spiritually mature men – can observe and officially recognize spiritual gifts:

Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. (1 Cor. 14:29)

In the New Testament the church (especially its leaders) played a key role in this matter of spiritual gifts:

Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you. (1 Tim. 4:14)

Because of this I remind you to rekindle God's gift that you possess through the laying on of my hands. (2 Tim. 1:6)

It is not just the discovery of spiritual gifts that occurs in the church, but the development of spiritual gifts, encouraged and assisted by those with the same gifts who are more mature in the faith:

And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well. (2 Tim. 2:2)

Obviously, the church which can best help you discover and develop your spiritual gifts is one where a single individual does not think he owns the ministry, but rather one who ministers to others to equip them for ministry:

It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God– a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ's full stature. (Eph. 4:11-13)

All of this should be prerequisite to one deciding to attend a Bible school or seminary, and determining which courses to take. Sadly, some schools are suffering economically, and thus will encourage anyone to attend their school, regardless of their gifting and calling. They are not eager to turn a student down because they do not possess the necessary gifts for the ministry for which they are seeking to prepare. And just as sadly, all too many young people attend Bible school and seminary because that appears to be the pathway to effective ministry and (sadly) status in the Christian community.

When one’s gifting is confirmed by the church and is encouraged to get further training to develop those gifts, then schooling will be most helpful. Knowing your spiritual gifts should also give insight related to which courses and which major one should pursue. (And, being a part of a good church during one’s time in school or seminary is just as vital as it was earlier.)

By God’s doing, this is the way it happened with me in terms of my schooling and ministry. I was greatly encouraged and assisted by the church where I attended while a young public-school teacher. They were the ones who first recognized and confirmed my gift of teaching, and then encouraged me to attend seminary, where my gifts could be further developed.

While attending Dallas Seminary I was led of the Lord to attend Believers Chapel in Dallas (another story). There, one of the elders stood up in a meeting where I spoke and publicly confirmed my gift of teaching. Members of that wonderful church played a major role in my development as a teacher, and in providing opportunities to exercise that gift, in the church and beyond.

So that is my (lengthy) counsel to you, my friend. Make it your mission to discover your spiritual gift. Seek opportunities to serve others, and also seek guidance and help from those you respect in the church. Ask others to give counsel regarding the discovery and development of your gifts. And then pursue the training needed to refine further your gifting. Look to God to bring this about in unexpected and wonderful ways. And be sure your wife is on board with you, both in regard to your spiritual gifting, and in regard to the direction which God is leading you.


Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Christian Life, Discipleship, Ecclesiology (The Church), Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors, Spiritual Gifts, Teaching the Bible

Poetic Crowns

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Most commonly a crown is understood to designate a splendorous headpiece worn especially by a king or emperor. For example, the biblical King David praises the Lord for what He has done for him, saying:

You welcomed him with rich blessings
And placed a crown of pure gold on his head (Ps. 21:3).1

Moreover, a crowned head was used in speaking of David’s splendorous royal crown (cf. Ps 132:17-18).

Nevertheless, the scriptures very often speak metaphorically of a crown worn on the head as a sign or symbol of honor, authority, or splendor (cf. Ps. 8:5). The psalmist of Psalms 65:11 points to “the crown of the year” in the natural world.

Metaphorically, the word crown often appears in the scriptural book of Proverbs. The author of Proverbs, traditionally understood as King Solomon (cf. I Kgs, 4:29-34; Pr. 1:1), was well known for his crowning wisdom. H. J. Austel writes, “Solomon’s wisdom was recognized to be greater than that of any other man.”2 For example,1) a grand blessing is found in Proverbs 12:4 which declares, “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown”. 2) Proverbs 10:6 displays the good news that, “Blessings crown the head of the righteous”. 3) This is especially true of the spiritually wise person as stated in Proverbs 14:24: “The wealth of the wise is their crown.” 4) In Old Testament times it was emphasized that spiritual wisdom is that which is most needed --it is virtually a crown of proper living.

Proverbs also contains other metaphorical uses. Proverbs 16:31 speaks of gray hair as a “crown of splendor”, which is “obtained by a righteous life”. Yet this, is but an example of righteous living which, is best exemplified in Christ’s time of living on earth. Other proverbs use “crown” in other ways such as, grandchildren “are a crown to the aged” (Pr. 17:6). This is especially the case with a righteous family which lives with close familial ties. Proverbs 14:18 is of special interest for it underscores the high value of being spiritually prudent as being “crowned with knowledge”.

May the wisdom of the Psalms be utilized by God’s faithful followers. Such takes place with those whose humility is associated with righteous living. Indeed, God crowns the humble person with salvation (Ps. 149:4). Moreover, God is gracious to people who truly repent of their sinful ways, for then he “forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,” and “crowns you with love and compassion” (Ps. 103:3, 4b). May this be truly the case for all who live and trust in obedience to the Lord and his Word.

The above discussion is reminiscent of the words of John in the biblical account in Revelation (Rev. 14:14-16). There he tells of a vision speaking of the Son of Man wearing a crown of gold, which most logically speaks of Jesus Christ. Thus, John writes, “I looked and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.” (Rev. 14:14). Accordingly, Walvoord can write:

Though the one described is said to be like the son of man, it is probable that this none other than Christ Himself participating in the divine judgments of God upon a wicked world. This probability is reinforced by the golden crown speaking of His glorified state and His royal dignity.3

As the hymn writer expresses it:

Crown him with many crowns.
The Lamb upon His throne:
Hark! How the heav’nly anthem drowns
All music but its own!
Awake my soul and sing
Of Him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless king
Thru‘ all eternity.4             

1 All Scripture references are from the NIV.

2 Hermann J. Austel in Richard D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel, “1 and 2 Kings” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gabelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), IV:55.

3 John F. Walvoord, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ”, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 220-221.

4 George J. Elvey, “Crown Him with Many Crowns.”

Related Topics: Terms & Definitions

The Bible Teacher’s Guide, Jacob: Being Transformed By Amazing Grace

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Among all the biblical heroes, Jacob’s story is peculiar. In many ways, he is more like a villain. He manipulates his brother, deceives his father and father-in-law, and raises up ruthless children who murder the men of a village and sell their own brother into slavery. However, with Jacob, we learn that God can redeem and change the worst of sinners—people like us. We are all part of God’s redemption story, in which he transforms people from Jacobs to Israels—from sinners to saints. As God layers grace upon us and our failures, he transforms us into people he can use greatly to bless the world. Let’s study God’s gracious work in Jacob, so we can better recognize and respond to God’s amazing grace and help others do the same. Thank you, Lord! Amen!

Copyright © 2018 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.

This book is also available for purchase here on Amazon.

Related Topics: Character Study, Christian Life


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And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well.

2 Timothy 2:2 (NET)

Paul’s words to Timothy still apply to us today. The church needs teachers who clearly and fearlessly teach the Word of God. With this in mind, The Bible Teacher’s Guide (BTG) series was created. This series includes both expositional and topical studies, with resources to help teachers lead small groups, pastors prepare sermons, and individuals increase their knowledge of God’s Word.

Each lesson is based around the hermeneutical principle that the original authors wrote in a similar manner as we do today—with the intention of being understood. Each paragraph and chapter of Scripture centers around one main thought, often called the Big Idea. After finding the Big Idea for each passage studied, students will discuss the Big Question, which will lead the small group (if applicable) through the entire text. Alongside the Big Question, note the added Observation, Interpretation, and Application Questions. The Observation Questions point out pivotal aspects of the text. The Interpretation Questions facilitate understanding through use of the context and other Scripture. The Application Questions lead to life principles coming out of the text. Not all questions will be used, but they have been given to help guide the teacher in preparing the lesson.

As the purpose of this guide is to make preparation easier for the teacher and study easier for the individual, many commentaries and sermons have been accessed in the development of each lesson. After meditating on the Scripture text and the lesson, the small group leader may wish to follow the suggested teaching outline:

  1. Introduce the text and present the Big Question.
  2. Allow several minutes for the members to discuss the question, search for the answers within the text, and listen to God speak to them through His Word.
  3. Discuss the initial findings, then lead the group through the Observation, Interpretation, and Application Questions.

On the other hand, the leader may prefer to teach the lesson in part or in whole, and then give the Application Questions. He may also choose to use a “study group” method, where each member prepares beforehand and shares teaching responsibility (see Appendices 1 and 2). Some leaders may find it most effective to first read the main section of the lesson corporately, then to follow with a brief discussion of the topic and an Application Question.

Again, The Bible Teacher’s Guide can be used as a manual to follow in teaching, a resource to use in preparation for teaching or preaching, or simply as an expositional devotional to enrich your own study. I pray that the Lord may bless your study, preparation, and teaching, and that in all of it you will find the fruit of the Holy Spirit abounding in your own life and in the lives of those you instruct.

Copyright © 2018 Gregory Brown

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.

1. Experiencing God’s Promises (Genesis 25:19-28)

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This is the account of Isaac, the son of Abraham. Abraham became the father of Isaac. When Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. But the children struggled inside her, and she said, “If it is going to be like this, I’m not so sure I want to be pregnant!” So she asked the Lord, and the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be separated from within you. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” When the time came for Rebekah to give birth, there were twins in her womb. The first came out reddish all over, like a hairy garment, so they named him Esau. When his brother came out with his hand clutching Esau’s heel, they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born. When the boys grew up, Esau became a skilled hunter, a man of the open fields, but Jacob was an even-tempered man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for fresh game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Genesis 25:19-28 (NET)

In Genesis 12, God called Abraham out from the pagans of this world to begin a work of reconciliation. Through Abraham, God planned to bring forth a people named Israel—who would be the stewards of God’s temple and God’s Word. They were to be lights to the world who had rejected God. From this nation was to come the messiah—Jesus—who would die for the sins of the world, so that they might be saved and have a relationship with God. This promise passed from Abraham to his son, Isaac, and eventually to Isaac’s son, Jacob.

Jacob’s story is peculiar among the stories of biblical heroes. Though all of the biblical heroes had clay feet, as they failed and made mistakes, it seems that none failed as much as Jacob. He doesn’t seem like the right choice for God to begin a missionary nation through. It was not Abraham or Isaac who was the direct father of Israel, it was Jacob. He had twelve sons, from whom the twelve tribes of Israel originated. The climax of Jacob’s story is when he wrestles with God and God calls him Israel (Gen 32)—one who God commands or who prevails with God.

Throughout his narrative, he seems nothing like a hero, and in many ways, he appears to be a villain. He manipulates his brother, deceives his father and his father-in-law, and raises up ruthless children who murder the men of a village and sell their own brother into slavery. However, it’s with Jacob where we learn that God can redeem and change the worst of sinners—people like us. We are all part of God’s redemption story, where he is taking people from sinners to saints, from Jacobs to Israels. It is not a fast work but a calculated and slow one, as God is patient with our failures. As we study Jacob, we see ourselves—maybe even more so than with other biblical heroes.

F.B. Meyer said this about Jacob:

His failings speak to us. He takes advantage of his brother when hard pressed with hunger. He deceives his father. He meets Laban’s guile with guile. He thinks to buy himself out of his trouble with Esau. He mixes, in a terrible mingle-mangle, religion and worldly policy. His children grow up to hatred, violence, and murder. He cringes before the distant Egyptian governor, and sends him a present. Mean, crafty and weak, are the least terms we can apply to him. But, alas! Who is there that does not feel the germs of this harvest to be within…1

Unlike many biblical heroes, we will learn more from Jacob’s failures than his successes. In addition, we learn a great deal about God and his redemptive grace, as we consider the depths of Jacob’s failures.

Here specifically in Jacob’s birth narrative, we see how God fulfills his promise to Isaac. God gives children to Isaac after years of waiting—continuing his original promise to Abraham to make him a great nation. From this, we learn principles about experiencing God’s promises.

We all have promises from God; many of them are made clear to us in the Scripture—some conditional and others unconditional. Second Peter 1:3-4 says:

I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.

It’s been calculated that there are some 3,000 promises in Scripture—all given to us so that we can take part in the divine nature (become righteous) and escape the corruption of the world (separate from sin). In addition, God has given us many personal promises, which he reveals during our intimacy with him and confirms through our hearts and the validation of others. These personal promises may be for a career, a ministry, a family, a revival, or even for healing from some pain. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.” God prepared works for each one of us to accomplish, even before we were born. As we walk in him, he develops desires in our hearts and works in us to complete them (cf. Psalm 37:4).

How can we experience God’s promises as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did?

Big Question: What principles about experiencing God’s promises can we learn from Jacob’s birth narrative?

To Experience God’s Promises, We Must Be Willing to Wait

This is the account of Isaac, the son of Abraham. Abraham became the father of Isaac. When Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.

Genesis 25:19-21

Since the narrative says Isaac was married at forty (v. 19) and had a child at sixty (v. 26), it is clear that Isaac and Rebekah waited twenty years to have children. Rebekah was barren, which would have been very hard on them for many reasons: (1) It was probably hard because of lofty expectations. Isaac, no doubt, had told Rebekah, God was going to make a great nation out of their seed and that their seed would be like the stars of the sky and the sands on the seashore. In fact, before Rebekah left her home to marry Isaac, her parents prayed that she would be the mother of thousands (Gen 24:60). So they probably had lofty expectations, which made the barrenness more difficult. They probably thought, “If we are going to fulfill God’s plan of forming a great nation, we have to start popping out kids!” (2) In addition, this waiting would have been hard simply because of cultural expectations. Women were expected to birth children in that culture—it was how the family name was carried on, how a work-force was developed, and how elderly parents were provided for in retirement. To not be able to have multiple children would have been very discouraging. A woman without children would have considered herself a failure. We saw this with Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Her infertility was a constant source of tension in her marriage (1 Sam 1). Thus, this waiting season would have been especially difficult for Isaac and Rebekah.

It must be known that waiting seasons are common when God is preparing somebody to experience his call and promises. With Joseph, he had a vision of his family bowing down before him, but soon after, he was sold into slavery and later went to prison. After all that, God exalted him to second in command in Egypt, where his family did eventually bow down before him. We also saw this with Moses. In the beginning, he killed an Egyptian, thinking that the people would be ready to follow him; however, it wasn’t God’s timing yet. Therefore, he escaped into the desert for forty years (cf. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:23-29). There God humbled him, as he served as a shepherd. After those forty years, God called him to set Israel free. With Israel, after Moses delivered them from Egypt, God made them wait in the wilderness for over a year before allowing them to attempt to enter the promised land. Even Christ waited to fulfill God’s call. For thirty years, Scripture, for the most part, is silent about him. We don’t know much about his childhood and early manhood. However, at thirty years old, he approaches John the Baptist, is baptized, and the Holy Spirit comes upon him. Then, he waits for one more season in the wilderness, as he fasts for forty days and was tempted by the devil. It was then that the Holy Spirit came upon him in power, and he began his ministry. Even the Son of Man had to wait to fulfill God’s promise. God often sends his people into a waiting season before he fulfills his promises to them—the promise of a spouse, children, a ministry, or some great work.

Application Question: Why does God make his people wait before they experience many of his promises?

1. In the waiting season, God teaches us how weak we are.

With Abraham, his wife’s womb was dead. Only God could bring life to it. All of Abraham’s striving by marrying another woman only brought pain. Often young people who are waiting for God to bring them a mate, get tired and therefore go find “Mr. or Miss. Right Now” instead of “Mr. or Miss. Right.” In that season, they bring themselves heartache and pain. Sometimes, they create life-time consequences like Abraham. In the waiting season, God humbles his people to show them how weak they are. In the flesh, we cannot bring about his promises.

2. In the waiting season, God teaches us to trust and depend on him more.

As we are weaned off our flesh, we learn to trust God more. God’s power is made perfect in those who recognize their weakness and rely totally on him. Our weakness and dependency are fertile ground for God’s power. So much so, God often allows storms or trials to create the fertile ground in us, so he can use us more. When Paul understood this about his “thorn in the flesh,” he began to boast in his weaknesses, for when he was weak, then he was strong (2 Cor 12:9-10). He had learned to trust and depend on God more.

3. In the waiting season, God teaches us contentment.

Often what happens when God gives us a specific promise by placing desires in our hearts and confirming them through circumstances and others, the promise can become our focus and even our idol, as we think on it and pursue it more than God himself. Therefore, in the waiting season, we learn to be content with God alone—whether we ever experience the promise or not. In the waiting season, God cleanses us from idolatry and teaches us to be content with the Giver, even if we never experience the gift. Some promises that God gives us will be taken up by later generations, as we see with Abraham’s posterity. God may put the seed of revival in our hearts for a person, a church, or a city and we may only see it through eyes of faith. Though we participate in the labors for it, the fulfillment may await another generation. Sometimes, we sow, and others reap. Sometimes we get to do both.

The waiting season can be a blessed time, if we are faithful in it. When it seems like God isn’t working, he is working in us and those around us to eventually fulfill his promise. Are you willing to wait?

Application Question: In what ways has God made you wait for his promises in the past? What are some promises that God is calling you to wait on currently? What are some negative tendencies of people in God’s waiting seasons?

To Experience God’s Promises, We Must Persevere in Prayer

Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.

Genesis 25:21

We don’t know how long Isaac and Rebekah tried to have children; it could have been five years, ten years, or for the whole twenty. Either way, Isaac is to be commended for his response of praying. Many years earlier in Abraham’s waiting season, instead of praying and waiting, he married another woman—Hagar. His sin created two competing seeds—Isaac and Ishmael. The conflict between their people still exists today between the Jews and the Arabs.

As we consider this, it must be noted that we do not have to continue in the sins of our parents. Sadly, this is often exactly what happens. God declared that the sins of those who hate him will follow the children to the fourth generation (Ex 20:5). Frequently sins follow family lines—neglect of family for career, domestic abuse, addictions, marital unfaithfulness, divorce, witchcraft, etc. Sins tend to follow generations. However, it does not need to be this way. Isaac broke that trend. Instead of sinning against God in his waiting season, he instead committed himself to prayer.

This probably wasn’t a one-time prayer, but a fervent persevering prayer. Many of God’s promises don’t come without persevering prayer. In order for Isaac to receive the promise, he had to faithfully pray. Similarly, before Christ began his ministry, he spent forty days in fervent prayer and fasting. We need prayer to receive God’s promises.

Is God going to mightily use one’s church, heal one’s family, or bring revival to a city? It must come through persevering prayer. Christ taught us to ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, knock and keep knocking and God would answer our prayers (Matt 7:7-8 in the original Greek). In Luke 18, Christ gave his disciples a parable of a widow that continually came before a judge, seeking justice. Though her request was originally denied, she continued to petition the judge, and finally, he granted her request. Christ taught that in the same way, his disciples must pray and not faint (v. 1).

Are you praying or fainting? Without faithful prayer, we’ll often get discouraged or give up in waiting seasons and various trials. God’s promises come through prayer, but we must persevere in those prayers to experience them.

Application Question: Why is it hard to persevere in prayer? In what ways is God calling you to practice persevering prayer? What blessings have you already received through persevering prayer?

To Experience God’s Promises, We Must Expect Difficulties and Seek God’s Wisdom During Them

But the children struggled inside her, and she said, “If it is going to be like this, I’m not so sure I want to be pregnant!” So she asked the Lord, and the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be separated from within you. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

Genesis 25:22-23

Often the mistake of God’s people when pursuing God’s promises is that they believe the answers or blessings will come without problems. That seems to be the situation with Rebekah. After she gets pregnant, she finds that her pregnancy is difficult. Verse 22 says, “the children struggled inside her.” The Hebrew word for “struggled” means “to crush or oppress.2 It was clear to Rebekah that something was wrong. She declared, “If it is going to be like this, I’m not sure I want to be pregnant!” The promise didn’t come in the way she expected.

As with Rebekah’s situation, God’s promises often come with pain—leading to disillusionment. We see this in his dealings with many others in the biblical narrative. After Abraham finally obeyed God and left his home for the promised land, he arrived, to find a famine there (Gen 12). In Abraham’s disillusionment, he left the promised land for Egypt, where he almost lost his wife to Pharaoh. Similarly, Joseph boasted about God’s promise of his family bowing down before him. However, soon after, he was sold into slavery and, later, became a prisoner. Scripture doesn’t tell us about Joseph’s thought process, but most likely it was disillusionment: “God, I thought you were about to exalt me! God, I thought you were going to use me! Why am I going through this?” To prepare Abraham and Joseph for their promises, they had to go through struggles and so did Rebekah.

Unlike Abraham, Rebekah didn’t rebel against God in the season of difficulty and disillusionment; instead, she drew near God. It says, “So she asked the Lord” (v. 23). We don’t know how she approached the Lord. Maybe, she sought a priest. Though Abraham was unique in that he worshiped the one true God in a time when the majority worshiped many gods, he wasn’t the only God follower. In Genesis 14, Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek who was the king of “Salem,” which would later become known as Jerusalem. Melchizedek was also a priest of God. Maybe, she sought the word of the Lord through a priest. Or, maybe, she simply built an altar and sacrificed to the Lord, as she sought his counsel. Either way, God spoke to her—revealing that there were twins inside her that would become two warring nations. Esau, the oldest, would become the nation of Edom, and Jacob would become Israel. Esau, and Edom, would ultimately submit to Jacob, and Israel (cf. 2 Chronicles 21:8).

Interestingly, Jewish legend says that Jacob and Esau were trying to kill each other in the womb—which obviously would play out in real life, both individually and nationally. Legend also said that every time Rebekah got near an idol, Esau got excited—representing his profane nature. Also, every time Rebekah got near an altar of God, Jacob got excited—representing his tendency towards God.3

Either way, if we are going to receive God’s promises, we must expect difficulties, and in the midst of them, we must seek the Lord and his wisdom like Rebekah did. Psalm 25:14 says, “The Lord’s loyal followers receive his guidance, and he reveals his covenantal demands to them.” God still speaks and reveals his will to his people today.

Application Question: How should we seek the Lord’s wisdom in the midst of our difficulties?

1. God’s wisdom comes through prayer.

In the context of believers going through trials, James said, “But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him” (1:5). In the midst of our trials, we must cry out to God for wisdom—for he gives it liberally to his children, just like any parent.

2. God’s wisdom comes through abiding in his Word.

Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to walk by, and a light to illumine my path.” Rebekah didn’t have the benefit of God’s written Word, as there was none at that time. Therefore, God commonly spoke to people in more charismatic ways. God can still do that today, if he wants, but God’s primary way of speaking to us is through his completed Word, found in the Bible. His Word either tells us what to do (especially in moral situations) or gives us principles to apply. When we are in the Word, it’s like the lights are on. When we are not in God’s Word, it’s like trying to navigate life in darkness.

Are you living in God’s Word? Are you walking in the light?

3. God’s wisdom comes through the counsel of godly saints.

Proverbs 24:6 says, “for with guidance you wage your war, and with numerous advisers there is victory.” God has chosen to do his work on the earth through his body—the church. Often, he will guide us and speak to us through the counsel of godly saints. Therefore, when encountering family, health, or career issues, we should share with others in order to receive both prayer and counsel. Often God’s wisdom will be given through them. Therefore, we should listen intently for God’s voice when we seek their counsel.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced difficulties while waiting on God’s promises? In what ways has God spoken to you in the midst of difficulties through times in prayer, God’s Word, and/or through the counsel of others?

To Experience God’s Promises, We Must Accept God’s Choice of Operating through Weakness

and the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be separated from within you. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

Genesis 25:23

Interpretation Question: Why did God choose Jacob, the youngest, to receive the promise over Esau, the eldest?

Again, when Rebekah sought the Lord, he gave her a prophecy about the children’s futures. Two nations would come from them—Edom and Israel. In the same way that Edom would eventually serve Israel, Esau would serve Isaac. This did not fit cultural norms. Typically, the oldest son in the family would become the patriarch or chief, when the father died or no longer could lead the family. However, God said it would be different with them. This would be hard for a family to accept in that day, and this was true in the case of Isaac. As the story unfolds, regardless of the prophecy, Isaac decided that the blessing would still go to Esau, which caused conflict with Rebekah (cf. Gen 27).

In Romans 9, Paul spoke of God’s choosing Jacob over Esau, when describing God’s sovereignty in the election of those who will be saved. Consider what he said:

Not only that, but when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our ancestor Isaac—even before they were born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose in election would stand, not by works but by his calling)—it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger,” just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! For he says to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then, it does not depend on human desire or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.

Romans 9:10-16

Paul quotes Malachi 1:2-3 where it says, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Paul makes the argument that God chose Jacob not because of works or future works but so that God’s purpose in election might stand—meaning to demonstrate God’s sovereignty, his right to choose. Now, when God talks about loving Jacob and hating Esau, this did not mean that God literally hated Esau. This was a common Hebraism. Christ used it in Luke 14:26, when he said that anybody that comes after him must hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters. Are Christians supposed to hate their families? No! Christ simply meant that our affection for our families must pale in comparison to our affection for Christ. In the same way, the extent that God favored Jacob over Esau could be compared to hate. It must be noted that God was not condemning Esau to damnation or hell. His selection of Jacob had to do with receiving Abraham’s blessing, which included the messianic line—Christ would come through Jacob and not Esau.

Why did God choose Jacob over Esau? Again, it had nothing to do with merit or future merits, as they weren’t even born yet. It was based solely on God’s choice. However, his choice represents how God commonly operates with people. He commonly chooses the weak over the strong. We see this throughout Scripture. If we were going to choose somebody to become a great nation, why choose Abraham and Sarah who were barren or Isaac and Rebekah who had the same struggle? Wouldn’t we, at the minimum, pick a fertile couple to create a great nation? When God found somebody to lead Israel in conquering the Midianites, he found the guy who was hiding and threshing grain, Gideon. He didn’t find a great warrior or somebody who others would recognize as such. God commonly chooses the weak to fulfill his purposes. First Corinthians 1:26-29 says:

Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in his presence.

God chooses the weak in order to glorify his name. He works through them in such a way that everyone knows that the work could have only been done through God. The strong are not weak enough to be used by him—they would boast in their family-background, finances, education, competency, etc.

Isaac showed great faith earlier in his narrative when it seems that he was willing to give his life on Abraham’s altar. In Genesis 22, we see no fight. He seems to be a Christ-like figure. In obedience to his father and in trust to God, he believed that the Lord would resurrect him (cf. Heb 11:17-19). Also, Isaac showed great faith in the beginning of this narrative, as he prayed, and God opened Rebekah’s womb. However, after the birth, as seen in the unfolding of the rest of the story, Isaac was unwilling to accept God’s sovereign right to choose Jacob over Esau (cf. Gen 27). Why? Esau was the obvious choice! He was the firstborn! He was strong and a hunter! Everybody would choose Esau! Isaac was a momma’s boy who liked to cook soup and stay at home. He probably had no hair on his chest and couldn’t grow a beard! He was the “weakling.” Even in the womb, though he fought to come out first, he lost—he was left grabbing his brother’s heal, eating his proverbial dust.

However, this is how God often works, and if we are going to see his promises fulfilled, we must accept it. Often when God decides to use us, he calls us to serve in areas of weakness where we don’t feel equipped. Like Moses, we cry, “Lord, I can’t speak! I can’t lead! You’ve got the wrong person!” However, when God calls, he typically calls the weak—asking them to step out in faith in their weakness. Moses could have missed God’s best if he had not accepted God’s sovereign right to call him to serve in his weakness. Sadly, in Jacob’s narrative, Isaac worked against God’s promise, as he later tried to select Esau for the blessing. Often, we do the same by not accepting God’s sovereignty.

Are you willing to accept God’s call, even though you feel too weak and incompetent? Are you willing to see others as God sees them and not the way the world classifies them based on their beauty, athletic ability, education, or socio-economic status? If not, we may fight against and potentially hinder the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Application Question: How should we apply this reality of our need to accept God’s sovereign right to choose the weak over the strong?

1. We must accept the fact that God may allow us to become weak or call us to work in an area of weakness in order to reveal his power in us.

With Paul, he had a thorn in the flesh—possibly some sickness. When he asked God to take it away, the Lord responded, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:8). God decided to not take away his thorn but instead to manifest power through Paul’s weakness. God may do the same with us—he may allow a trial, a sickness, or call us to serve in an area where we are weak. He does this, so he can empower us. He works more powerfully through weak vessels. We must be willing to accept this, if we are going to allow God to fulfill his promises and plans in us.

2. We must be careful to not misjudge others.

Again, God chose the youngest—not the oldest. He similarly chose David over his older brothers. His selections are not the obvious choices. Elijah was a mountain man who wore animal clothing and ate bugs. He lacked the high-level education of somebody who went to school in the capital, Jerusalem. He was not the obvious choice. Christ came from the ghetto (John 1:46), and Scripture seems to indicate that there was nothing attractive about him (Is 53:2)—nothing that would draw people to himself. Many of the disciples lacked formal education, as they were fishermen (Acts 4:13). Be careful to not misjudge others. In God’s economy, the first will be last and the last will be first (Matt 20:16)—the servant will be the greatest of all (Matt 23:11).

3. We must learn to humble ourselves so that God may lift us up.

He passes over the proud and self-confident and finds the humble—those who have a proper view of themselves in comparison to God. They see themselves as sinful, unwise, and weak. They are not like the Pharisees who saw themselves as righteous, wise, and strong. God opposes the proud and exalts the humble (James 4:6).

Are you willing to humble yourself—confessing your pride and weakness—so that God can use you?

Application Question: Why does God choose the weak instead of the strong? How have you experienced God using you or others in their weakness? What are your thoughts in regard to God’s sovereignty in the election of those who will be saved—apart from anything they have done, before the creation of the earth (cf. Rom 9:10-24, Eph 1:4-5, 1 Peter 1:1-2)?

To Experience God’s Promises, We Must Foster Healthy Relationships

When the time came for Rebekah to give birth, there were twins in her womb. The first came out reddish all over, like a hairy garment, so they named him Esau. When his brother came out with his hand clutching Esau’s heel, they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born. When the boys grew up, Esau became a skilled hunter, a man of the open fields, but Jacob was an even-tempered man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for fresh game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Genesis 25:24-28

At birth, the first child was red and hairy. Therefore, they called him Esau, which meant hairy. This probably symbolized the vitality he would be known for. He would become a man’s man—a hunter. The youngest came out with smooth skin. Unlike Esau, the youngest would be a man of the home who did not prefer the outdoors. He came out holding Esau’s heel and was therefore called Jacob. The name originally meant “may God protect” but later developed the negative connotation of heal grabber or deceiver4—like a wrestler grabbing the heel of an opponent to trip him. Both aspects of this name were seen in Jacob; throughout his life God protected and blessed him, and yet Jacob also tried to work apart from God—deceiving others to gain his desires. Like an immature believer, he had strong swings between the spiritual and the carnal, the heavenly and the earthly.

Esau and Jacob’s time in the womb and birth was a prophetic picture of their lives and the people that would come from them. In fact, the foreboding picture continued in verse 28 when it says: “Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for fresh game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” When the narrator, Moses, shared this, he was setting the stage for future conflict. Not only did these children battle in the womb, but their enmity was enhanced through their parents’ unwise displays of affections. Since the father enjoyed wild gamey food, he gravitated towards Esau—the hunter—and the mom gravitated towards Isaac, since he was a man of the house. It’s normal for people to gravitate towards those with similar interests; however, when this happens with parents and their children, it causes great conflict. Jacob would later commit the same sins of his parents, as he would love Joseph more than his other sons and therefore gave him a jacket of many colors. This created an animosity among the older brothers towards Joseph, and eventually, they sold him into slavery.

As mentioned, when Jacob and Rebekah played favorites, it not only provoked the sinful natures in their children but also threatened God’s promise. God’s promise was that through Jacob a great nation would come. However, the enmity and trickery between the brothers, incited by the parents, would later cause Esau to seek to kill Jacob (Gen 27:41). How Isaac and Rebekah related to their children threatened God’s promise of a great nation coming through Jacob. Similarly, how Jacob related to Joseph also threatened the promise over Joseph’s life. In both situations, God took the evil instigated through unwise parenting and used it for good.

It is no different for us. God’s plan for our lives will be fulfilled or hindered, in part, through our relationships with others. We are not a body unto ourselves, but only part of God’s body with which he fulfills his plans on the earth. An eye can’t say to the hand I don’t need you (1 Cor 12:21). We need each other. Therefore, we must foster healthy relationships with others.

Our relationships will either help us fulfill God’s promises or hinder us from fulfilling them. Solomon’s marriages to pagan women led him to worship idols and come under God’s discipline. Rehoboam’s ungodly friendships and their counsel led to the split of the Jewish kingdom. In contrast, the prophets Samuel and Nathan helped David fulfill God’s promise on his life. Elijah discipled and mentored Elisha. Christ mentored and developed the disciples. Consider the following verses:

The one who associates with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

1 Corinthians 15:33

Are your relationships with others helping you fulfill God’s promises or hindering them? Are there any relationships you need to change or let go of in order to fulfill God’s promises to you?

Isaac and Rebekah, though they loved their children, only caused discord between them and were a hindrance to God’s plans. Sadly, many delay or miss God’s best because of unhealthy relationships as well. Is God pleased with the relationships you are cultivating?

Application Question: Why are relationships so important in helping us fulfill God’s promises? How can they affect us both negatively and positively? In what ways is God calling you to pursue relationships with those experiencing God’s promises, so they can help you experience yours (cf. Prov 13:20, Eph 2:10)?


How can we experience God’s promises and not miss God’s best for our lives, families, churches, and communities?

  1. To Experience God’s Promises, We Must Be Willing to Wait
  2. To Experience God’s Promises, We Must Persevere in Prayer
  3. To Experience God’s Promises, We Must Expect Difficulties and Seek God’s Wisdom During Them
  4. To Experience God’s Promises, We Must Accept God’s Choice of Operating through Weakness
  5. To Experience God’s Promises, We Must Foster Healthy Relationships

Copyright © 2018 Gregory Brown

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1 Meyer, F.B.. Jacob: Wrestling with God (Kindle Locations 68-73). Kindle Edition.

2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1997). Be authentic (p. 13). Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub.

3 Guzik, D. (2013). Genesis (Ge 25:19–26). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

4 Wiersbe, W. W. (1997). Be authentic (p. 14). Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub.

Related Topics: Character Study, Christian Life